The remains of Navy Seaman 1st Class Kirby R. Stapleton have been identified, decades after he died serving our country.
Navy Seaman 1st Class Kirby R. Stapleton, 24, Chillicothe, was killed during World War II, and was accounted for on Aug. 27, 2018.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Stapleton was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941. 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 Stapleton.
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 Stapleton.
In April 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma. On June 15, 2015, DPAA personnel began exhuming the remains from the Punchbowl for analysis.
To identify Stapleton's remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA analysis, dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,744 (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II.
Stapleton's name is recorded on the Walls 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.
At about 7:48 a.m.., on Dec. 7, 1941, a quiet Sunday morning, an estimated 353 Japanese fighter planes made their way to Pearl Harbor, where they managed to destroy or damage nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships and over 300 airplanes. It is believed that as many as 2,403 Americans died in the attack, including Stapleton and numerous civilians. Another 1,178 people were wounded.
At 8:10, an 1,800-pound bomb went through the deck of the battleship USS Arizona and landed in the forward ammunition magazine. The ship exploded and sank with more than 1,000 men trapped inside.
Japanese torpedoes then attacked the USS Oklahoma. With 400 sailors aboard, the Oklahoma lost her balance and rolled onto her side ain the harbor.
Less than two hours later, the surprise attack was over, and every battleship in Pearl Harbor, including the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Maryland, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee and USS Nevada—had sustained significant damage.
The attack shocked Americans and is the direct reason for the country’s entry into World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters.