Hawaii sailors folding flag at Grant Cook services (copy)

Sailors from Navy Region Hawaii fold the American flag over the remains of Fireman 1st Class Grant Cook Jr., of Cozad, Nebraska, during services at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu May 9. Cook died aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma during the Pearl Harbor attack Dec. 7, 1941, but his remains were identified only in 2018 through forensic work by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, conducted at its Offutt Air Force Base laboratory.

The death of a loved one in a faraway war zone brings enormous heartache to the person’s family back home. The pain felt by a mother, father and other family members is compounded when the remains of a fallen service member are unidentified. Such “unknowns” have been common throughout the history of warfare.

Modern forensic science is bringing dramatic change, however. Technicians with the U.S. military are now performing remarkable feats of identification in an ever-increasing number of cases. Forensic specialists at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base are in the forefront of those efforts.

Their work has brought comfort to families in the Midlands and across the U.S. by providing an all-important opportunity for these Americans to be remembered and honored. In many cases these long-lost relatives have been buried beside their parents or siblings. It’s hard to express how meaningful such comfort can be for a family.

Four years after the remains from a military cemetery in Hawaii were exhumed, forensic scientists at Offutt and in Honolulu have identified some 242 of the USS Oklahoma men, enabling their return to their families. These fallen servicemen have included Gerald Clayton of Central City, Nebraska, and George C. Ford of Carroll, Iowa.

On Monday, Agnes Porter, the 89-year-old niece of a USS Oklahoma sailor who hasn’t yet been identified, called Steve Liewer, The World-Herald’s military reporter, who has written extensively about the Offutt lab.

“I hope they find something, even a fingernail,” said Porter, a native of Schlewig, Iowa, now living in California. “I want to see him buried next to his parents and sister.” Her still-missing uncle is Charles Homer Johannes, who grew up in North Dakota.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha — specifically, information and technology science professor Sachin Pawaskar and student Ryan Ernst — deserve applause for developing a program that simplifies the Offutt scientists’ work in matching bones belonging to the same skeleton.

What laudable work by all involved.

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