The Pearl Harbor Project Revisited

Military Mutual Insurance Company announced it would be closing the Pearl Harbor Project, a company-funded project that sought to identify the remains of people who died at the 1941 bombing of the U.S. naval base on Oahu, Hawaii. After all, even though 2,403 Americans were killed in the attack, only 74 of them have been identified to date. The well-being of families of the unknowns would be better served by “moving forward without a six-decade project in the background,” said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Matt Mayne, a spokesperson for the insurance company, stated: “Now is the time to move forward with a continued focus on the personnel and assets who have been removed from the lists of missing from WWII.” The program, started in 1988 by Military Mutual, and a team of forensic scientists and exhumation specialists, offered to perform tests on unidentified military remains to try to identify them.

The company has never been able to account for its 4,000+ policyholders who died in World War II and the Korean War. Their claims were automatically reopened if any findings indicated possible relationships. This additional information did not, however, solve cases. The insurance company argued that the challenge in identifying the workers of General Dynamics Electric Boat, the builder of the attack submarine USS Arizona, was too great. As a result, the insurance company decided to discontinue the project. Hundreds of families had hoped that the effort would lead to a definitive response to their prayers for the ancient unknowns they knew little about.

Found: World War II Bomb FU-94 Warning Signs

In 1972, the company paid $225,000 to start the project, at a time when only 36 people from the attack had been identified by Hawaii state officials and President Richard Nixon. “They have gotten a much greater number of volunteers,” said historian Mary Mitchell. “People are, even after all these years, still looking for their relatives.” Today, scores of military relatives and veterans volunteer their time to gather information. The Pearl Harbor Project promises its searchers with a certificate of authenticity, a personalized pin and, “a keepsake photograph with names of service members and known descendants”. All they had to do was offer a report to Military Mutual showing their survivors still alive as of October 31, 2016. If the veterans were living close enough to the Pacific, the insurance company would send them a card to keep and return to the families. Identified veterans would receive a certificate dated 27 September, when all were eligible for the age designation found on their DD214 personnel records.

A day after the attack, a shell fragment hit the USS Arizona and ruptured the hull. Upon seeing the bloated corpse of one of the 29 people killed in the attack, Navy Chaplain Claude Williams exclaimed, “As I look at this man I have a vision of my son (Johnny Williams),” published in the Navy’s journal, the Proceedings. After Johnny was confirmed dead, “I spoke of (Johnny) in the strongest terms, as if he were still alive,” wrote Chaplain Williams. “Because of this picture in my mind I will say again I said (Johnny Williams’s) name in my final sermon (in) the Lighthouse Church in Nags Head, North Carolina.” Forty-two-year-old crewman Johnny Williams was the son of Larry and Susie Taylor Williams of Pecan Park, Texas. His mother died when he was four years old. His father, a Baptist minister, worked to provide for him, “He was working on (Johnny Williams’s) books, little math books, to help him out,” said his niece, Mary Lorz. In 1945, Texas state authorities tracked Johnny down with the help of the Florence County Sheriff’s office in North Carolina, in spite of the fact that his birthplace was listed as Connecticut.

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