Sailor’s remains identified 75 years after death at Pearl Harbor

An attendee of the USS Oklahoma Memorial ceremony places a flower on a photo of a fallen sailor on Ford Island, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 2016.


By EDIE SCHMIERBACH | The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 2, 2017

MANKATO, Minn. — June Shoen cried when she received confirmation that exhumed remains were those of her big brother.

Shoen, 80, and Harold Gifford, 93, received calls Monday following up on DNA tests they'd submitted last year.

Quentin Gifford was killed at Pearl Harbor when the USS Oklahoma capsized after being struck by torpedoes Dec. 7, 1941.

"Seventy-five years ago — I was 6 years old at the time. I vaguely remember a Mass was held at the Catholic Church in Mankato," she said. Her only specific memory of Quentin is of sitting in his lap as he played a guitar.

The two surviving Gifford siblings of the family of five children that grew up in Mankato may now begin burial plans for a brother who was 22 when he died.

"At our ages, it's good to put some finality to this," Shoen said.

Memorial services are tentatively scheduled at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

"When the man called, he said (the military) would set up a time and date for when they will bring a flag to Harold," Shoen said.

The U.S. Navy — since February 1942 — had listed Radioman 2nd Class Quentin John Gifford as Lost in Action.

Shoen, Harold, and their brother, Earl, contributed their DNA for analysis in 2016.

After undergoing recent tests, Quentin's remains have been identified, said Katie Suich, public affairs specialist with the Navy Personnel Command Communications Office.

"Harold and I decided we didn't want to leave him at The Punch Bowl (a national cemetery in Hawaii)," Shoen said.

"Quentin deserves to be honored with a ceremony," said Harold, who also served in World War II.

He credits success in life to advice from his brother who was four years his senior.

"He is the reason I joined the Air Corps," Harold said. (The Army Air Corps was the predecessor to today's Air Force.)

Harold was was surprised by the news he received Monday.

Through the decades, family members hoped Quentin's death had happened quickly.

"The ship was turned upside-down. People were trapped inside for days," Harold said.

"I had this hope his body had been completely destroyed — that he had not been obliged to suffer."

Earl Gifford died last December. He, too, was a World War II veteran, but it took intervention from Eleanor Roosevelt before he was allowed to serve. A Navy regulation had barred Earl's enlistment because he had gone AWOL from the Conservation Corps.

"Our mother wrote a letter to the president's wife and explained the situation," Shoen said.

A Dec. 22, 1941, Free Press story described how one of Earl's dreams had come true. He was allowed to join the Navy to get a crack at avenging his brother Quentin's death.

Other archived Free Press articles describe how the American Legion presented a Gold Star service flag to the Gifford family and a Navy department wire making the Lost in Action classification official.

Mankatoan Vincent Eberhart, a police petty officer, was among those who died at Pearl Harbor when the USS Arizona sank. No remains have been identified as Eberhart's.

Four hundred and twenty-nine men perished when the Oklahoma went down.

Gathered human remains from the attack site in the Pacific Ocean were brought to a Navy laboratory in 1941. Staff were able to identify relatively few of the dead seamen. Unidentified remains were buried in a gravesite in Hawaii.

In 2015, a process began to exhume sailors so their DNA could be analyzed.

The family of a central Minnesota man, Navy Fireman 1st Class Elmer Kerestes, recently received word the sailor's remains had been identified. He, too, had served aboard the USS Oklahoma.

Burial services for Kerestes were Saturday at a cemetery near Holdingford in central Minnesota.

©2017 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)
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