Front cover of the December 2017 issue of America in WWII magazine (Author’s copy)
The December 2017 issue of America in WWII magazine includes an article written by myself that focuses on the tremendous efforts by the historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, military personnel, researchers, and other civilian workers that make up the Department of POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) at Joint Base-Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii, and their latest successes and goals in identifying the remains of U.S. servicemen from our past wars.
Boot camp photo of PFC Charles Robert Taylor (Photo in possession of author).
Poster hanging in the laboratory area of Department of POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), Honolulu, Hawaii, shows photos with names of sailors and Marines of those killed onboard USS Oklahoma (BB-37) whose remains have yet to be identified. The red banners indicate those whose remains have been positively identified. PFC Charles Taylor’s photo is at extreme top right corner. (Photo by Guy Nasuti)
What began as a story I was in the process of developing due to my work as a US naval historian, suddenly turned into a personal one for my wife and I upon learning of my father-in-law’s discovery that he had an uncle that had been killed at Pearl Harbor he hadn’t known of. PFC Charles Robert Taylor, a 23-year-old from Carnegie, Oklahoma, died onboard USS Oklahoma (BB-37). Taylor was one of the 40 men that made up USS Oklahoma’s marine corps detachment. Of the 429 men killed aboard the Oklahoma, 35 were identified, and the rest were buried in a mass grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (the “Punchbowl”). As of February 2017, 30 more sets of remains from USS Oklahoma have been identified, and several more have been identified since then (the exact number was unavailable to me).
With the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor last December, my wife and I traveled to Honolulu to try and discover where DPAA was in the process of identifying our missing servicemen’s remains and how they went about doing so. We also wanted to pay tribute to PFC Taylor and all of his shipmates and comrades during the war.
The home of the Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Center of Excellence building at Joint Base-Hickam, Honolulu, Hawaii, is where several civilian and military personnel work collecting evidence to help identify the remains of American servicemen still carried as Missing in Action or Prisoners of War from past wars in our nations history. (Photo by Guy Nasuti)
Norm Lasman was a 21 year-old sailor down below in an engine room onboard USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) when the ship was hit by two Japanese kamikazes in less than 30 seconds on May 11, 1945, just off the coast of Okinawa. In the deadly minutes that followed, he heard someone pass the word over his sound-powered headset to “Abandon ship.” (Note: This was the CO, Captain George Seitz, who ordered those at the aft ends of the flight and hangar decks, where flames and smoke were heaviest, to abandon ship; the order no doubt added to an already highly confused situation to those that heard it, and even to those who did. Quickly, the rumor spread around the ship that she was to be abandoned, and there were a few incidents of sailors and officers that were not in immediate danger jumping into the sea or onto ships that had come alongside to provide assistance. There was at least one court-martial case brought against a junior officer for abandoning his men and post, and may have been others).
Lasman made his way up a ladderwell and almost out onto the flight deck towards relative safety, when suddenly he heard the Chief Engineer, Commander Joseph Carmichael, tell his engineers “We are not abandoning ship. We are going to stay at our posts and keep the ship afloat.” Lasman, realizing he most certainly would die by doing so, took one last look at the sky, closed the hatch and climbed back down the ladderwell and into his workspace to do his job and help save his ship.
Some 19 hours later, Lasman woke up on the flight deck, surrounded by his dead shipmates. With no recollection of who saved him that day, he spent the next several decades with issues of short and long-term memory loss, and later discovered he had suffered severe issues from carbon monoxide poisoning. It wasn’t until the book Danger’s Hour by Maxwell Kennedy that he finally began to fill-in some of the blanks from before and after the events of May 11, 1945. A neighbor of Lasman began to do help him do some additional digging online, and with additional help provided by Chicago’s Channel 9 WGN News, they were finally able to track down now 97 year-old Al Skerritt, one of Lasman’s former shipmates and the man that pulled Lasman out of the engine room that fateful day. Skerritt lives across the country from Lasman in Seattle, but see the link below to watch the phenomenal reunion between the two World War II heroes.
Bunker Hill vets
Antonin DeHays, a French historian living in College Park, Maryland, has been charged with stealing dog tags from National Archives II at College Park and selling them on Ebay.
The 32 year-old DeHays was also charged with the theft of government records in federal court Tuesday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Maryland in a news release.
Authorities said the dog tags of a downed Tuskegee airman were stolen and that
DeHays “donated” them to a Virginia museum in exchange to sit in a vintage Spitfire aircraft.
“The theft of our history should anger any citizen,” the Archivist of the United States David Ferriero said Tuesday in a statement, “but as a veteran I am shocked at allegations that a historian would show such disregard for records and artifacts documenting those captured or killed in World War II.”
A search of DeHays’ home led to the recovery of six more dog tags and documents missing from the National Archives. Facing up to 10 years in prison, DeHays admitted he stole the items for “personal financial gain,” according to a Washington Post article dated 14 June 2017.