How many bodies have remained in Pearl Harbor since 1941?
Eighty years after more than two thousand Americans lost their lives in the attack, hundreds of them remain entombed in a sunken ship at Pearl Harbor.
Today marks the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that cost 2,390 Americans their lives in an aerial attack from the Japanese military.
The United States had allied with the United Kingdom against the Axis forces but the US had not officially declared war on Japan, meaning that officials were not expecting the attack on 7 December 1941.
The attack ravaged the US’ Pacific Fleet and bombed two warships, the USS Arizona and the USS Utah, out of service permanently.
The Arizona sank so rapidly after being struck with a 1,800-pound bomb that more than 900 people drowned entombed on the ship. Another 60 died on the Utah when it sank, with a further three later interred there.
Authorities struggled to remove and identify bodies from the wreckage
The chaos and turmoil of that fateful day and the broader circumstances of the war mean that it was almost impossible for authorities to retrieve the bodies of those who died from the two ships that sank.
It took months of work for some of the less damaged ships to be retrieved and the forensic methods of the time made identification incredibly difficult. In the rush to bring some of the bodies back to the surface the locations where they were found was lost and some from different ships were mixed together.
On the USS Oklahoma, just 35 of the 429 crew members who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor were identified in the years after.
The difficulty of identifying individuals from the wreckage was made clear in 2003 when a Pearl Harbor survivor named Ray Emory approached the Army Central Identification Laboratory claiming to have records related to a previously unidentified service member. However when the casket was exhumed, traces of around 100 different people were found in that single casket.
Now investigators have a much greater array of tools at their dispose to help them identify the bodies but the significance of Pearl Harbor, both as a memorial monument and a resting place, means that most bodies from the Arizona remain underwater.
By 1942 officials had realised that the Arizona was irretrievable. Certain sections were salvaged and reused to bolster the war effort but significant portions of the ship remained in situ. The USS Arizona was removed from the navy’s register during the war but was symbolically recommissioned in 1950.