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Navy concerned about JPAC's exhumation plans

Aug. 12, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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HONOLULU — A Hawaii-based military command responsible for finding, recovering and identifying missing-in-action service members is at odds with the Navy over exhuming unidentified sailors from the battleship Oklahoma.

The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command wants to exhume all of the unidentified Dec. 7, 1941, casualties of the Oklahoma buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, but the Navy prefers to maintain the “sanctity” of the graves, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

It will be up to the Army, which has “next-of-kin” authority over all Punchbowl unknowns.

JPAC Central Identification Laboratory Director John Byrd said the command proposes disinterring comingled remains of more than 330 unidentified Oklahoma crew members buried in more than 50 graves.

“The Navy leadership, secretary of the Navy’s office, from what we understand, is against it,” Byrd said. The Army is getting the Navy’s input as a courtesy, he said.

During any identification process, the unknown sailors and Marines would be “outside the sanctity of the grave again,” the Navy said, confirming it is opposed to JPAC’s plan.

The Navy would like to take the partial and comingled remains of more than 100 Oklahoma crew members who were disinterred in 2003 from a single casket at Punchbowl, possibly re-bury them at a memorial and grave site on Ford Island, and invite family members to a ceremony on Dec. 7, 2014.

JPAC also wants to disinter and try to identify crewmen from the battleships California and West Virginia.

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