Project to ID Pearl Harbor victims comes to close

Walter B. Manning — records show he had connections to Bartow County and Albany — was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  The hull of the Oklahoma barely remains above the water in the lower right corner of this photo taken shortly after the attack.

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 1941 file photo, part of the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma is seen at right as the battleship USS West Virginia, center, begins to sink after suffering heavy damage, while the USS Maryland, left, is still afloat in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, File)
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Walter B. Manning — records show he had connections to Bartow County and Albany — was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The hull of the Oklahoma barely remains above the water in the lower right corner of this photo taken shortly after the attack. FILE - In this Dec. 7, 1941 file photo, part of the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma is seen at right as the battleship USS West Virginia, center, begins to sink after suffering heavy damage, while the USS Maryland, left, is still afloat in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, File)

Credit: AP

Eighty years ago, five Georgians were among the 429 killed when the USS Oklahoma battleship was torpedoed multiple times in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Their bodies and more than 350 others lay in military graves, unable to be identified for decades. Then, starting six years ago, modern technology sent four of the men home to families.

But the last Georgian, Walter B. Manning, won’t be coming home, at least for now. His remains are presumably among the 33 still unidentified shipmates that will be returned to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Oahu, Hawaii, this week.

The Oklahoma Project, an initiative by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to identify the remains of the fallen sailors and Marines, exceeded the hopes of many. The agency identified 361.

Scientists working on the project said that, as technology continues to improve, it may be possible to identify the rest at some future point.

“This was the right thing to do,” said Kelly K. McKeague, the Georgia Tech graduate who heads up the agency. “Three hundred and sixty-one families now have answers, and we have fulfilled a sacred promise to loved ones who made the supreme sacrifice, as well as their families.”

Earlier this year, the body of Eugene Blanchard was returned to his family.

Blanchard, a boilermaker, was born east of Athens. He was five months away from returning home to his wife and baby boy when he was killed.

In June, he was laid to rest in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where his son lives. Though the family had given DNA samples, they were caught off guard when the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency called earlier this year.

“It was completely unexpected, and it was the biggest news we ever could have received as a family,” said Stephanie Blanchard, the daughter of Eugene’s son, Bill.

She grew up hearing stories from her grandmother and reading the letters Blanchard wrote from Pearl Harbor, the last one just eight days before the attack.

ExploreIn today’s AJC: A special section about the Pearl Harbor attack
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William Eugene Blanchard’s casket is loaded into a hearse at Norfolk international Airport on June 3, 2021 in Norfolk, Va. After a 79-year wait, the remains of the Georgian killed in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor were coming home. (Photo: Mike Caudill for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mike Caudill for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

William Eugene Blanchard’s casket is loaded into a hearse at Norfolk international Airport on June 3, 2021 in Norfolk, Va. After a 79-year wait, the remains of the Georgian killed in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor were coming home. (Photo: Mike Caudill for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
caption arrowCaption
William Eugene Blanchard’s casket is loaded into a hearse at Norfolk international Airport on June 3, 2021 in Norfolk, Va. After a 79-year wait, the remains of the Georgian killed in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor were coming home. (Photo: Mike Caudill for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Mike Caudill for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Mike Caudill for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Read the story of how the Navy identified Gene Blanchard

Before Blanchard, the project identified Georgians Julian B. Jordan of southwest Georgia in 2016; Archie Callahan Jr. a 19-year-old mess attendant from Atlanta, in 2017; and John M. Donald, a 28-year-old shipfitter from Cherokee County, in 2018.

Roughly half of the USS Oklahoma’s crew was killed when the ship was torpedoed and went down quickly.

After the attack, it took 18 months for Navy personnel to recover the remains from inside the sunken ship. Initially, the Navy was able to identify only 35 bodies using dental records and other evidence. Efforts in later years identified a few more, but the advent of DNA testing and other advanced techniques opened the door to identify many more.

McKeague said the Oklahoma Project’s conclusion is a momentous occasion for the defense department. Now the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is focusing on other projects, including identifying the remains of American prisoners of war who died in the Philippines, hundreds of Korean War veterans who were repatriated in recent years, and the bodies of 72 U.S. flyers who died and were buried in Romania after a massive bombing raid on oil refineries.

Explore7 things to know about the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941
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Jeffrey Lynch, a forensic anthropologist, develops 3-D models of skeletal remains inside the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Offutt Laboratory Dec. 12, 2019 at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Charles Haymond)

Credit: 55th Wing Public Affairs

Jeffrey Lynch, a forensic anthropologist, develops 3-D models of skeletal remains inside the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Offutt Laboratory Dec. 12, 2019 at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Charles Haymond)
caption arrowCaption
Jeffrey Lynch, a forensic anthropologist, develops 3-D models of skeletal remains inside the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Offutt Laboratory Dec. 12, 2019 at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Charles Haymond)

Credit: 55th Wing Public Affairs

Credit: 55th Wing Public Affairs

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