Undertaker explains why many Pearl Harbor victims were left amongst the wreckage

A total of 2,403 Americans died in the tragic attack 80 years ago and for many families there was never closure as bodies remained unidentified or left amongst the wreckage

Bodies still remain entombed in the USS Arizona as fuel continues to leak from the wreck
Bodies still remain entombed in the USS Arizona as fuel continues to leak from the wreck

The Pearl Harbour attack was a surprise aerial attack on the U.S naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island in Hawaii.

On December 7 1981, over 2,400 Americans died, with the majority of those dying as a result of the Japanese bombings on the USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma.

Around 15 minutes into the attack, the USS Arizona was hit with a 1,700 pound naval projectile that ignited £1m worth of explosives.

The 33,000-ton battleship was lifted into the air before it hit the water and sank, and continued to burn for two-and-a-half days.

In total, out of the 1,511 crew members, 334 people survived, which meant that 1,177 people lost their lives.

YouTuber and mortician Caitlin Doughty known as ‘Ask A Mortician’ has done some research on what happened to Pearl Harbor’s dead.

The explosion ignited £1m worth of explosives



In her video, she said: “As we were working on this video, I remembered all the times I went to the Arizona memorial as a child.

“I remember looking down into the water, where you can still see the eerie outline of the ship and wondering ‘are they still down there?’”

The short answer to that is yes, according to Caitlin, many of the bodies remain down there because of the ‘intense fire, twisted metal and inaccessibility of the ship.’

She continued: “At the time of the attack, identification or retrieval of the bodies was pretty much impossible.

“Only 107 people were positively identified, leaving 1070 people to fall into different categories.”

The first category was bodies that were never found and the second was bodies or parts of bodies removed from the ship.

These bodies were buried in temporary mass graves, declared ‘unknowns’ and reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Some remains couldn’t even be recovered because they were in the rear portion of the ship.

Caitlin said: “When it was determined that the USS Arizona could not be salvaged, the navy decided that it would be ‘too difficult to remove the dead in a respectful manner’.

“So 1,102 people remain entombed in the USS Arizona, considered buried at sea.”

Interestingly, many of the surviving crew members have opted to have their cremated remains thrown into the sunken battleship.

She continued: “For the families of those who died on ships like the USS Oklahoma, there is no closure, as no wreck remains of the battleship.

“On the morning of the attack [there were] 1,300 people on the ship as well as a 24-piece band assembled onto the deck for the morning colours ceremony.

You can still see the eerie outline of the ship at the Arizona memorial



“The ship was hit by several torpedoes which caused the ship to roll on its side in 50 feet of water, some crew jumped in desperation, others became trapped.

“Some of the traps were rescued by crew members after banging against the wall for help, others tried to swim their way out.”

A crew of 429 lost their lives that day, with the majority of them caught in the submerged ship.

When the ship was eventually pulled upright in 1943, the gathering and identification of the bodies was tough.

Caitlin said: “As the bodies had been underwater for some time, they had decomposed to nothing but bones which had become intermingled with the ship.

“Disentangling the bones, metal and oil was merely impossible with the technology of the time, as they relied on dental methods.”

The bones were originally to be buried in a mass grave, but the military demanded that the skeletons be assembled as ‘whole sets.’

Each set was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific as ‘unidentified’.

She continued: “But in 2003, a survivor named Ray Emory got officials to exhume the casket of Eldon Wyman; the remains of four others were found to be in the casket.

“With further DNA testing, there were in fact the remains of 90 other people in the casket.”

In 2015, The Pentagon decided to attempt to identify all of the USS Oklahoma’s unidentifiable remains.

As reported by The New York Times, the remains of 355 sailors and Marines from the U.S.S. Oklahoma were identified using DNA and dental records, but 33 crew members could not be.

On December 7, 2021, the remains of those who remain unidentified will be re-entered at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

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