The weight of the Pearl Harbor attack is still heavy for some families, such as the relatives of Fireman 2nd Class George C. Ford. Although the attack unfolded more than 76 years ago, some families were never able to have the closure that comes with burying their loved ones killed on the morning of December 7, 1941. Ford, together with 428 of his fellow sailors aboard USS Oklahoma (BB-37), was killed when his ship capsized and sank, but because his remains couldn’t be immediately recovered, he was listed as “Missing in Action” rather than “Killed in Action.”
Waiting for Closure
His remains could not be identified among the hundreds of others that were too badly damaged. In the 1940s, technology to match DNA was unavailable, leaving families like Ford’s without the comfort of knowing his whereabouts. Over seventy years later, however, improved technology and new programs gave hope to Ford’s relatives, and finally, after so many years of wondering, their wait is over.
George C. Ford is one of dozens of USS Oklahoma casualties to have been identified to date through the DNA matching program administered by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Using DNA from living relatives—in this case Ford’s nephew, George E. Ford—the agency is able to identify the bodies of the unknown sailors and reunite them with their families.
George C. Ford Finally Identified
Prior to being exhumed, the unidentified remains were buried in mass graves on Oahu, and letters were sent to their families that the sailors were “Missing in Action.” Though George E. Ford knew little of his uncle, he was named after him and always felt a connection. “Since I was named after him, he always had a place in my heart,” Ford explained.
George C. Ford was born on April 27th, 1916 in Lidderdale, Iowa. He joined the US Navy in August, 1940 after studying diesel engineering. On the morning of December 7, 1941, he was serving aboard Oklahoma as a Fireman 2nd Class when the battleship was struck by torpedoes launched by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Within minutes of the start of the attack, she was sinking to the bottom of the harbor, taking 429 of her crew with her. While some of Oklahoma’s deceased could be identified, more than 300 were buried in mass graves after being recovered during salvage efforts in 1942 and 1943.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Ford’s remains are among nearly 140 identified through the USS Oklahoma Project, which started in 2015. Ford’s remains are to be returned for burial among other family members.