Forensics: Is the US military capable of reliably identifying remains from the USS Oklahoma?

This is a very sensitive topic as it is about identifying remains of 388 US Navy and Marine Corps personnel killed on the USS Oklahoma during the Pearl Harbor attack by Japanese aircraft in the morning of December 7, 1941. RIP.

The core issue is: Why not FIRST use the best methods available to forensic science?

The Stars and Stripes digital magazine addresses statements from a US bio/anthropologist and others about the current DNA capabilities available at the US POW/MIA /DPAA/ lab in Oahu, HI. Its main DNA method is mtDNA and to a lesser extent Y-STR chromosomal tech methods developed in the 1990’s. Both have higher margins of error and are not as robust compared to autosomal DNA analysis but are backup in cases where genomic DNA is not available. The article develops both sides of this argument but the question of “what are best forensic practices?”, clearly stands out. In addition,  the military does not reveal its data on when/how/results of its autosomal work in analyzing aged remains.


“The technology they’re using is basically 1990s technology,” said Cecil Lewis Jr., presidential research professor, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, and co-director of its Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research. “Genomic science has aggressively moved past it.”

“Obviously the Bode lab is superior to AFDIL, as we should have been pursuing [nuclear] DNA all this time,” said correspondence between JPAC personnel and officials from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s office, which includes AFDIL. The name of the sender and recipient were redacted due to government privacy policies.”

Full article

2014 Stars and Stripes article outlining backstory about the Oklahoma externment of the remains and the identification capabilities of AFIL/DPAA/MIAPOW/JPAC.


About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
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