Military officials are seeking relatives to provide DNA samples in order to positively identify the remaining unaccounted-for sailors lost aboard the USS Oklahoma in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and one of the men was a Richmond resident.
Steward’s Mate First Class Randall Walter Brewer was aboard the Oklahoma at the time of Japan’s attack on Dec. 7, 1941. His remains could not be identified, and he is still considered unaccounted for, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is leading the identification effort.
Brewer was 21 years old at the time of the attack. His next of kin, according to government documents, was his father, Clarence Alfonso Brewer Sr., of 507 N. 30th St. in Richmond’s Church Hill.
The USS Oklahoma was struck by multiple torpedoes and capsized. Some members of the crew swam to safety and 32 sailors were saved by rescuers cutting holes in the Oklahoma’s side, but 429 sailors were killed, according to the Navy.
Thirty-five of the sailors were identified shortly after, and 394 were subsequently buried as “unknowns” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the “Punchbowl.” Six of the remains were disinterred between 2007 and 2010, according to a June story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, before DPAA was given the go-ahead from the Pentagon to disinter the remaining 388 in 2015.
The agency sent the commingled remains, more than 13,000 bones, according to the newspaper, to Omaha, Neb., for examination using DNA samples from living relatives. As of earlier this week, 388 of the 429 have been positively identified.
Officials are seeking relatives of the 41 yet to be identified — including Brewer — for DNA samples to attempt identification. Families are then given the option of reburial at the Punchbowl or at an alternate location, such as a private family site or Arlington National Cemetery, according to DPAA.
Although the remaining unidentified remains were returned to Hawaii in June for reburial at the Punchbowl, DPAA hopes to identify more of the sailors if family members come forward to submit DNA samples.
“It’s never too late,” a DPAA spokesperson said by email earlier this week.
Family members can contact the Navy Casualty Office at (800) 443-9298 to learn about providing a family DNA sample.