DNA analysis identifies remains of Upstate sailor killed at Pearl Harbor

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Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt termed it “a date which will live in infamy.”

Seventy-seven years ago on Dec. 7, shortly before 8 a.m., a fleet of almost 200 Japanese aircraft attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, killing thousands of American sailors.

The USS Oklahoma, an older battleship that had been stationed in the Pacific after World War I, sustained multiple torpedo hits and capsized within minutes of the attack.

Many of the ship’s crew members managed to escape the wreckage by jumping overboard, but hundreds more remained trapped inside. Only 32 were rescued.

Ultimately, the attack on the USS Oklahoma claimed the lives of more than 400 sailors, including Navy Fireman 2nd Class Carl D. Dorr.

Dorr, who grew up in the Sans Souci neighborhood of Greenville County, enlisted in the Navy in 1940. He was 27 years old at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Navy Fireman 2nd Class Carl D. Dorr. Photo provided by the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Now, nearly eight decades after his death, Dorr’s remains have been identified and returned home.

On Dec. 5, Dorr’s flag-draped coffin was unloaded from a passenger plane at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, where it was greeted by surviving family members and carried by a Navy honor guard to a waiting hearse.

Dorr will be laid to rest on Friday, the 77th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. A visitation will be held from 10 to 10:45 a.m. at Thomas McAfee Funeral Home Northwest, with the funeral at 11 a.m. at Graceland Cemetery West.

Like others who perished during the Pearl Harbor attack, Dorr’s remains sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean with the USS Oklahoma. 

From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries in Hawaii.

Three years later, with the task of recovering and identifying fallen U.S. service members in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service removed the remains from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.

The laboratory staff was able to confirm the identifications of only 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time, so the American Graves Registration Service buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as nonrecoverable, including Dorr.

Decades later — in April 2015 — the deputy secretary of defense issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of unidentified remains associated with the USS Oklahoma. The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) began exhuming the remains from the Punchbowl several months later for DNA analysis. 

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. There are 72,781 (about 26,000 are assessed as possibly recoverable) still unaccounted for. DNA analysis, however, has helped identify scores of unidentified remains in recent years. Last year, for instance, Navy Seaman 1st Class Milton Reece Surratt, a Mauldin native, who was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma during the Pearl Harbor attack, was identified through DNA testing and returned to the Upstate for burial.

To identify Dorr’s remains, scientists from the DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA analysis, anthropological analysis, and even circumstantial evidence. The Department of Veterans Affairs also partnered in the effort.

According to the DPAA, Dorr’s remains were accounted for on July 25. His name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

As for the USS Oklahoma, the ship was decommissioned in 1944 and eventually sold to a private company for salvage. In May 1946, as it was being towed to a scrapyard in California, the stripped-down vessel capsized again and sank about 600 miles east of Pearl Harbor.

Today, there is a memorial to the USS Oklahoma and the sailors and Marines who died during the attack at the National Memorial Cemetery on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor.

For more information, visit www.dpaa.mil.

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