Cortland couple helps effort to identify Pearl Harbor remains

The over 300 bodies have been re-exhumed from a mass grave, and now people are using DNA technology to identify them

A Cortland couple is helping to identify the remains of hundreds of bodies buried in a mass grave after Pearl Harbor.


STRUTHERS, Ohio (WKBN) – A Cortland couple is trying to bring closure to families and friends of those who lost their lives 75 years ago at Pearl Harbor.

Maryanne and Harold Ryther know the cost inflicted by World War Two – Maryanne lost three relatives.

On Dec. 7, 1941, 429 people died on the USS Oklahoma. Over 300 went down with the ship. Their bodies were found and buried a year later in a mass grave.

Photos: 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack

It was only in the year 2000 when sailors, prompted by new technology, started a project to help identify the remains.

“What we’ve taken on is to get these bodies identified and get the Oklahoma recognized, because it’s like the forgotten stepchild of Pearl Harbor,” Harold said. “Thirty-five have been identified as of August.”

Five out of those 35 people were from Ohio.

Now the couple is helping to raise awareness and funds for the project.

Maryanne’s uncle, Stanislaw Drwall, was stationed on the Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor. She was just 4 years old at the time, and with her grandmother when the news arrived.

“She was holding this paper and she was crying. I didn’t understand at the time what the paper was,” she said.

It was a telegram, delivered on Valentines Day, saying that her uncle had been killed.

Harold and Maryanne got started in 2011 when the government contacted them, asking for Maryanne’s DNA sample to help identify her uncle. But like many others, they still haven’t been able to find his remains.

Jan Brown, commander of AMVETS Post 44, says the bodies have been re-exhumed.

“We are doing mitochondrial testing to match them with their families back home.”

The Rythers hope the anniversary will bring awareness to the hundreds of other families that are still waiting.

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