Pearl Harbor operation to identify the remains of war heroes is finally ended

Pearl Harbor operation to identify the remains of war heroes is finally ended
Pearl Harbor operation to identify the remains of war heroes is finally ended

A recovery operation to identify the remains of war heroes who died at Pearl Harbor has come to an end ahead of the 80th anniversary of the attack.

Brothers Leo and Rudolph Blitz, just 16 when they signed up, were so young their father had to go to the recruiting office in Omaha to give his permission.

They enlisted in May, 1938 and were killed just three years later when their ship, the USS Oklahoma, was sunk by Japanese torpedoes during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that left 2,335 American troops dead.

For 78 years, they were buried with other unidentified sailors from the Oklahoma at a cemetery in Hawaii.

But in 2019, forensic investigators from the Pentagon were able to identify the twins as part of a project to name all of the warship's unknown casualties.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is finally closing down the project after identifying the Blitz twins and almost 400 more Oklahoma sailors over the last four years.

On Tuesday, marking the 80th anniversary of the surprise attack that brought the US into WWII, the last of the remains that could not be identified will be reburied in Honolulu's National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific known as the 'Punchbowl.'

Among those returning to Hawaii to mark the anniversary is 101-year-old David Russell who - unlike the Blitz twins - managed to escape the Oklahoma. 

Brothers Leo and Rudolph Blitz were just 16 when they signed up that their father had to go to the recruiting office in Omaha to give his permission. They enlisted in May, 1938 and were killed just three years later when their ship, the USS Oklahoma, was sunk by Japanese torpedoes during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that left 2,335 American troops dead.

Brothers Leo and Rudolph Blitz were just 16 when they signed up that their father had to go to the recruiting office in Omaha to give his permission. They enlisted in May, 1938 and were killed just three years later when their ship, the USS Oklahoma, was sunk by Japanese torpedoes during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that left 2,335 American troops dead.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is finally closing down the project after identifying the Blitz twins and almost 400 more Oklahoma sailors over the last four years (pictured: the hull of the capsized Oklahoma is seen on the right as the battleship USS West Virginia, center, begins to sink after suffering heavy damage on December 7, 1941)

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is finally closing down the project after identifying the Blitz twins and almost 400 more Oklahoma sailors over the last four years (pictured: the hull of the capsized Oklahoma is seen on the right as the battleship USS West Virginia, center, begins to sink after suffering heavy damage on December 7, 1941)

Pearl Harbor survivor and World War II Navy veteran David Russell, 101, talks with fellow veterans while eating breakfast at the American Legion on Monday, November 22, 2021, in Albany, Oregon

Pearl Harbor survivor and World War II Navy veteran David Russell, 101, talks with fellow veterans while eating breakfast at the American Legion on Monday, November 22, 2021, in Albany, Oregon

When Japanese bombs began falling, U.S. Navy Seaman 1st Class Russell sought refuge below deck on the ship. 

But a split-second decision on that morning changed his mind, and likely saved his life.

'They started closing that hatch. And I decided to get out of there,' Russell said in an interview with the AP.

Within 12 minutes his battleship would capsize under a barrage of torpedoes. 

Altogether 429 sailors and Marines from the Oklahoma would perish - the greatest death toll from any ship that day other than the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177.

Russell is returning to Pearl Harbor on Tuesday for a ceremony in remembrance. 

About 30 survivors and 100 other veterans from the war are expected to observe a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the minute the attack began.

Survivors, now in their late 90s or older, stayed home last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and watched a livestream of the event instead.

Russell is traveling to Hawaii with the Best Defense Foundation, a nonprofit founded by former NFL Linebacker Donnie Edwards that helps World War II veterans revisit their old battlefields.

He recalls heading topside when the attack started because he was trained to load anti-aircraft guns and figured he could help if any other loader got hurt.

But Japanese torpedo planes dropped a series of underwater missiles that pummeled the Oklahoma before he could get there. Within 12 minutes, the

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