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Three sailors killed in Pearl Harbor attack identified through DNA and dental analysis 

Three sailors killed in Pearl Harbor attack nearly 80 years ago are finally identified through DNA and dental analysis

  • The sailors were identified as Navy Fireman First Class Floyd D. Helton, Navy Seaman First Class Walter S. Belt Jr; and Navy Seaman First Class David F. Tidball
  • Helton was 18, Belt was 25, and Tidball was 20 when they were killed during the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941
  • All three had been assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which accounted for 429 deaths out of the total 2,403 Americans who died during the attack
  • The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified the remains using DNA from surviving family members and anthropological analysis

Three sailors who were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II have finally been identified nearly 80 years later thanks to advancements in anthropological and DNA analysis. 

Navy Fireman First Class Floyd D. Helton, Navy Seaman First Class Walter S. Belt Jr, and Navy Seaman First Class David F. Tidball died in the attack on the morning of December 7, 1941, according to a statement by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. 

Helton, of Somerset, Kentucky, was just 18 years old. Belt and Tidball were 25 and 20, respectively.  

All three had been assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored off of the Hawaiian island of Oahu when it was attacked and capsized by the Japanese, killing 429 out of the total 2,403 Americans who died during the attack.

The United States would declare war on Japan the day after the attack on December 8. 

Pictured: Navy Seaman Second Class Floyd D. Helton, 18, of Somerset, Kentucky was positively identified this week, nearly 80 years after dying in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor

Officials identified Helton, 18, Navy Seaman First Class Walter S. Belt Jr. 25, and Navy Seaman First Class David F. Tidball, 20, all of which were assigned to the USS Oklahoma (pictured)

Officials identified Helton, 18, Navy Seaman First Class Walter S. Belt Jr. 25, and Navy Seaman First Class David F. Tidball, 20, all of which were assigned to the USS Oklahoma (pictured)

Most of the deceased that had been recovered from the battleship were not immediately identified, with officials burying them almost a decade after the attack in 1949 across 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. 

Officials with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began exhuming the remains in 2015 in an effort to identify them, with more and more sailors being ID’d in recent months.

Just last month, officials were able to identify Navy Fireman 3rd Class Welborn L. Ashby and Navy Seaman 2nd Class Howard Scott Magers through DNA provided by family members.  

Magers – who was aboard USS Oklahoma along with Helton, Belt and Tidball – and Ashby were originally buried in the mass graves in the Punchbowl.  

Officials had just previously identified another USS Oklahoma sailor last month, with U.S. Navy Seaman 2nd Class Howard Scott Magers being ID'd through family DNA in May

Officials had just previously identified another USS Oklahoma sailor last month, with U.S. Navy Seaman 2nd Class Howard Scott Magers being ID’d through family DNA in May

The attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to the Pacific portion of WWII with Japan, was called 'a day which will live in infamy' by then-US President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to the Pacific portion of WWII with Japan, was called ‘a day which will live in infamy’ by then-US President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Ashby had been assigned to the USS West Virginia, which had 106 causalities during the attack on Pearl Harbor, a day then-US President Franklin D. Roosevelt said ‘which will live in infamy’. 

Magers was accounted for in December 2020 and Ashby in November 2019, and their remains were returned home to Kentucky on Memorial Day. 

Officials have been identifying more and more sailors from the WWII Pacific attack thanks to surviving family members donating DNA to help with the identification of remains and advancements in anthropological and DNA analysis.

Helton, Belt and Tidball were positively identified by dental and DNA records, with Helton being set for burial on July 31, 2021, in Burnside, Kentucky, according to officials.

All of these recent identifications are being attributed to ‘scientists from DPAA dental and anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used Y chromosome DNA (Y-STR) and autosomal DNA (auSTR) analysis’ provided by surviving family members, according to the statement.

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