The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced on Monday, April 26, that Navy Seaman 1st Class Wallace G. Mitchell, 19, of Los Angeles, killed during World War II, was accounted for on Dec. 16, 2020.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Mitchell was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked the ship. The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Mitchell.
From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu'uanu cemeteries.
In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time.
The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Mitchell.
Between June and November 2015, DPAA personnel exhumed the USS Oklahoma Unknowns from the Punchbowl for analysis.
To identify Mitchell’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
Mitchell’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Mitchell will be buried on May 28, 2021, in San Diego.
DPAA is grateful to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of the Navy for their partnership in this mission.
Fate of the USS Oklahoma (BB-37)
The USS Oklahoma was built in New Jersey in 1914 and commissioned in 1916, and she served in World War I as an escort for Allied conveys crossing the Atlantic.
After the war, the Oklahoma was transferred to the Pacific Fleet, and in 1927 received an extensive retrofitting and modernization. She received new guns, an aircraft catapult, anti-torpedo blisters and additional armor.
In July 1936, Oklahoma, which was on a European training cruise, rescued American citizens and other refugees from the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
She then returned to the Pacific Fleet and was based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, beginning December 1937.
The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Oklahoma was moored on "Battleship Row" at Ford Island.
During the surprise attack that helped drag the United States into global war, Oklahoma was hit by at least five, possibly as many as eight, Japanese torpedoes and capsized within 12 minutes. The first two torpedo blasts were absorbed by the ship's torpedo blister, but the subsequent hits tore her hull open.
Of her 864-man crew 429 were killed, 32 wounded, and many others were trapped or missing. Rescue crews saved many of those trapped in the capsized battleship by cutting holes in the ship’s hull.
In 1943, she was righted and raised, but she was deemed too greatly damaged to be repaired and returned to service. After usable parts and armament were salvaged, she was sold for scrap.
In May 1947, what remained of Oklahoma’s bare hull was to be towed by two tugs to San Francisco Bay for final scrapping. On the way to San Francisco the tugs were hit by a storm and Oklahoma began to quickly sink and would have pulled the tugs under had their captains not loosened the tow cables.
The Oklahoma’s final resting place remains unknown.