CHICAGO (AP) — A 21-year-old sailor will be laid to rest Tuesday after a decades-long effort to identify remains removed from Pearl Harbor, more than 80 years after he was killed in the attack that propelled the United States into World War II.
Herbert “Bert” Jacobson’s family members have waited their entire lives to attend a memorial for the young man they knew but never met. Jacobson was among the most 400 sailors and Marines killed on USS Oklahoma during December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The casket containing his remains will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
“It’s been kind of an unsolved mystery and it lets us finally know what happened to Bert, where he is and that he is finally buried after being listed as unknown for so long,” Brad said. McDonald, a nephew. .
The service in Arlington will be the final chapter in the story of the man from the small town of Grayslake, northern Illinois, for the family who never had a body to bury when he was killed and the scientific quest to put names to the remains of hundreds of battleship personnel buried anonymously for decades in a dormant volcanic crater near Pearl Harbor.
It’s a story of waiting.
The battleship remained submerged for two years before being refloated and the bodies recovered. A few years later, the Oklahoma men’s graves were reopened in hopes that dental records might lead to their names. But 27 sets of remains were not identified and had to be reinterred at the crater, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, commonly known as the Punchbowl.
Another effort to identify about 100 sets of remains turned up empty in 2003.
In 2015, the Ministry of Defense announced its intention to exhume the remains again.
“We now have the ability to forensically test these remains and produce the identifications,” Debra Prince Zinni, forensic anthropologist and lab manager at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii, told IAAF. Associated Press at the time.
This gave new hope to members of the Jacobson family, who had been disappointed by every failed effort. They told the AP that Jacobson’s mother cried every December 7, at least in part because she never knew where he was.
“She always had hope that the phone would ring and it would be Bert,” McDonald said.
The effort of 2015, Oklahoma Projectled to the identification of 355 men – including Jacobson – who were killed when their ship was hit by at least nine torpedoes. This leaves 33 sets of remains to be identified. To mark the 80th anniversary of the attack, these unidentified remains were reinterred, said Gene Hughes, public affairs officer at Navy Personnel Command. He worked with the families of those killed in Oklahoma, including those close to Jacobson.
For Jacobson’s family, any hope of knowing exactly what happened on December 7, 1941, is long gone. All they knew from talking to Jacobson’s shipmates was that he had just left duty after spending several hours ferrying men ashore.
McDonald said a good friend of his Navy uncle said he was pretty sure Jacobson “slept in his bunk and was dead before he even knew a war was going on. But we don’t know really.
That left one last question: What happened to Bert Jacobson’s body?
The answer came in 2019, when McDonald said the family was notified that Jacobson’s remains had been identified. Hoping the burial could take place next year, they were forced to wait, largely because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed most gatherings, including funerals.
Now they’re getting the closure that Jacobson’s parents and other family members never had.
“I wish they could have seen that,” McDonald said of her grandparents, parents and others.
For him, seeing the uncle he’s never met take his place at Arlington is especially meaningful.
“When Bert joined the Navy, he ran into a guy from South Dakota who was an orphan,” McDonald said. “When they got a pass for the weekend, Bert took him home and the orphan met his (Bert’s) younger sister.”
Orville McDonald and Norma Jacobson dated and later married, giving McDonald a favorite ending to this story.
“That orphan was my father, and Bert’s sister was my mother,” he said. “So I wouldn’t be here without Bert.”
Find past coverage of Pearl Harbor and efforts to identify remains at https://apnews.com/hub/attack-on-pearl-harbor