The remains of two sailors missing since Pearl Harbor attack are finally identified

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has been identifying unaccounted remains from the USS West Virginia since 2017.

The USS West Virginia burns during the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941

Elliot Lewis, NBC News

The remains of two sailors missing in action since the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor have been identified, a federal agency said.

Petty Ofc. 2nd Class Claude Ralph Garcia died at age 25 while serving as a ship fitter aboard the USS West Virginia when Japanese forces attacked the U.S. naval base near Honolulu. Petty Ofc. 1st Class Keith Warren Tipsword, died at age 27, on the same battleship.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which accounts for missing defense personnel, recently announced the positive identifications.

Garcia was born to father Rafael Garcia in Ventura County, California, on April 27, 1916, according to Honor States, an organization that tracks the life and achievements of fallen military members.

He graduated from Ventura High School in 1933 and attended community college before enlisting in the Navy, according to the VC Star, which said local news reports from 1943 described Garcia as Ventura’s first World War II presumed casualty, and his memorial service was estimated to have drawn over 300 mourners.

Tipsword was born in Effingham County, Illinois, on June 21, 1914, to Franklin Wiley Tipsword and Laura Mabelle Doty, according to Honor States.

The remains of Garcia and Tipsword had been buried with other unidentified bodies from the battleship USS West Virginia at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as Punchbowl Cemetery, the accounting agency said in a news release.

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, bombs and torpedoes sunk the ship, killing 106 crew members, the agency said. A total of 2,403 people died in the attack.

Many of the USS West Virginia casualties were identified in a mass disinterment six years after the attack. Many others were reburied until 2017, when 35 caskets were exhumed and sent to a laboratory for identification using methods such as mitochondrial DNA, dental analysis, anthropological analysis and material evidence, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Of the original 106 casualties, 25 had been unidentified as of 2016, it said. Others who have been ID’d recently include Navy fireman Harold K. Costill, who died at age 18, and Seaman John R. Melton, who died at 23.

Almost 2,000 deceased members of the U.S. military have been identified since the efforts began in the 1970s, the agency said.

“At DPAA, it is our sacred duty to find, account for, and bring home these service members who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Sgt. 1st Class Sean Everette, a spokesperson for the agency, told the VC Star.


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