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77 years after he died in Pearl Harbor, technology helps identify and lay to rest an unknown soldier

Posted at 4:10 PM, Dec 22, 2018

William Bruesewitz died in the attack at Pearl Harbor attack at the age of 26.

This month, his family finally laid him to rest 77 years after he died.

“Everybody is overjoyed and thrilled that we’re able to do this and very much humbled and honored that we’re able to do it at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Brent Stevenson, Bruesewitz’s nephew.

Bruesewitz served in the U.S. Navy and died during an attack on his battleship, the USS Oklahoma.

His remains were recovered but could not be identified. For decades, he was buried as an unknown soldier.

But advances in technology allowed the military to re-examine his remains and finally make a positive identification.

“It was surprising. It was a blessing. It was really quite humbling,” said Stevenson.

Scientists at the Department of Defense are working on giving other families the same closure.

“Every year it is our goal to identify at least 200 of these service members. But we would like to get that number higher if we can find ways to do it,” said Dr. John Byrd, the chief scientist from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Over the years, Byrd and his team have found new ways to use advanced DNA techniques to identify remains and they continue to make progress.

“They have developed over and over again, improved extraction protocols that allow them to get DNA out of bones where yesterday they couldn’t,” said Byrd.

But Byrd admits the race against time, not technology, can be the biggest obstacle as older generations pass away.

“It’s one of the greatest challenges of all, and this is how do you find close or closet family members of a missing service man from 1944?” Byrd said.

Despite the challenges, the mission moves forward to give a name and dignity to thousands of fallen soldiers.

“All of this work, ultimately, is being done so that this service member can have his name back and his family will know what happened to him,” said Byrd.

“It’s gonna bring a lot of comfort to a lot of families just like it has ours,” said Stevenson.