The road home from Pearl Harbor

Walter Manning from Georgia died during the attack on Pearl Harbor in  1941.

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Walter Manning from Georgia died during the attack on Pearl Harbor in  1941.

Agency hopeful two casualties of 1941 attack will return to Georgia

A third push to identify the bodies of sailors killed at Pearl Harbor could mean two fallen shipmates from Georgia might finally make it home.

William E. Blanchard, a boilermaker on the USS Oklahoma, and Walter B. Manning, an electrician’s mate, were among the more than 2,400 killed in the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese surprise attack that sparked the U.S. entry into World War II. Blanchard came from the tiny community of Tignall, east of Athens; Manning is believed to have had ties to Bartow County and Albany.

After the attack, hundreds of bodies could not be identified and were interred together in graves on the island of Oahu. They were disinterred once so that more remains could be matched to names. Those that were not were reburied.

Four years ago, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, armed with the latest DNA tests and improved forensics, renewed the effort to identify the others.

“It’s a moral and sacred obligation we made to them when we sent them off to war,” said Kelly McKeague, a Georgia Tech graduate who heads up the agency’s efforts.

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Williams Blanchard was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Williams Blanchard was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Williams Blanchard was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Since they began, technicians and scientists have identified 242 sailors and marines who died on the sinking and burning ships in the harbor. Two hundred of those were on the Oklahoma, which was heavily torpedoed and sank quickly. Among them were Georgians John M. Donald, a 28-year-old shopfitter from Cherokee County who was identified in 2018; Archie Callahan Jr., a 19-year-old mess attendant from Atlanta who was identified in 2017; and Julian B. Jordan of southwest Georgia, identified in 2016.

One hundred forty-six unidentified sailors and marines remain. The technicians are searching for Blanchard and Manning, whose Navy photos set their faces in perpetual youth.

“Those two cases are being pursued actively,” said Franklin Damann, the agency’s lab director. “We do have all the evidence there, and I think we are going to make good progress.”

Damann said the lab still wants to find a DNA sample from a relative of Manning’s mother. That would lift the chances of a positive identification of the sailor’s remains.

There are six Georgians who will never come home. Asbury L. Booze, Hiram D. Harris, Robert L. Mims, Harvey L. Pike, Lewis J. Pike and Robert G. Thompson were shipmates on the USS Arizona, the most heavily damaged ship on that infamous day.

What is left of the Arizona lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. The hull is still visible under the clear Pacific, and thousands daily visit the Arizona Memorial, built over a portion of the battleship. Nine hundred of its crew went down with the ship. They remain entombed in perpetuity. The Navy declared it a graveyard.

The fuel tanks on the ship, filled in 1941, were never drained and, to this day, small slicks of seeping fuel float to surface.

“It is a powerful, evocative experience,” McKeague said of visiting the memorial.

McKeague has close personal ties to the attack. His father was 12 years old, living on a sugar cane plantation in the hills above the harbor, when the Japanese attacked. The family’s quiet Sunday morning was interrupted that day by green Japanese planes flying over on bombing runs.

“He remembers seeing it in all its trauma,” he said.

McKeague said it inspired his father to join the Army later. He served in Korea and Vietnam.

McKeague got an engineering degree at Georgia Tech — the first time he left the islands — then served in the Navy and reserves before taking his current position, directing the agency.

“It’s important to American communities that this nation still vigorously pursue and account for its missing service members … from World War II to Iraqi Freedom. Over 81,000 are still missing from past conflicts,” he said.

Relatives of Blanchard who want to provide a DNA sample to help in his identification can call 1-800-443-9298. Relatives of unidentified or missing soldiers, who want to offer a DNA sample or find out more information, can contact military service casuality offices at this website: www.dpaa.mil/Families/Contact-Information/

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