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Remains of Alabama serviceman killed at Pearl Harbor identified 77 years later

The remains of an Alabama man among the 2,403 people killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor nearly 77 years ago have been identified, and his family is preparing to bring him home. 

Water Tender 2nd Class Edgar D. Gross, 40, of the Carriger community in Limestone County, was assigned to the USS Oklahoma when the ship was struck by multiple Japanese torpedoes on Dec. 7, 1941. Gross was one of 429 men killed on board the ship when it capsized, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA)

Gross’ remains were officially identified Wednesday using mitochondrial DNA from family members, dental records, anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence, officials from the accounting agency said in a news release

Heavy cables, straining under the terrific load, slowly right the USS Oklahoma from the bed of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on May 24, 1943. The American battleship sank during the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which started World War II. (AP Photo)

“We never thought this would happen,” Gross’ nephew, Stephen Gross, told the News Courier in Athens.

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Stephen Gross was one donor of DNA used to identify his uncle, but his genetic material was not enough, the newspaper reported. He told the News Courier he helped the military track down a couple of female relatives who also contributed DNA samples. 

DPAA officials said the remains of the USS Oklahoma’s crew were recovered in an operation that lasted from the immediate aftermath of the attack to June 1944. The men were buried in two cemeteries in Hawaii. 

The remains of the dead sailors were taken in 1947 to a military lab, where technicians worked to identify the men. Just 35 of the dead were able to be identified at that time, the news release said

The men were re-interred in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, and, in October 1949, a military board classified the unidentified, including Gross, as non-recoverable. 

This April 21, 2015, photo shows a gravestone marking 12 sets of unidentified remains from the USS Oklahoma buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. The military that June began exhuming the remains of more than 400 servicemen killed when their ship was bombed at Pearl Harbor in 1941. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

The Department of Defense in April 2015 issued a directive to exhume the remains of those unidentified Pearl Harbor dead to try once again to identify them using DNA and other technologies that were not available in the 1940s. The exhumations began that summer, DPAA officials said. 

“Gross’ name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing from WWII,” the news release from the agency stated. “A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.”

Accounting for the men killed on the USS Oklahoma is an ongoing process, with several identifications being announced each month. According to the DPAA’s Facebook page, at least 10 men were identified in August alone:

Navy Seaman 1st Class Joseph K. Maule, 18, of Broomfield, Nebraska, accounted for Aug. 8;

Navy Seaman 2nd Class Myron K. Lehman, 20, of Gann Valley, South Dakota, accounted for Aug. 9;

Navy Radioman 3rd Class Dante S. Tini, 19, of Virginia, Minnesota, accounted for Aug. 13;

Navy Fireman 3rd Class Robert J. Bennett, 18, of Monona, Iowa, accounted for Aug. 13;

Navy Seaman 1st Class Richard L. Watson, 20, of Crossett, Arkansas, accounted for Aug. 14;

Marine PFC Alva J. Cremean, 21, of Pueblo, Colorado, accounted for Aug. 14;

Navy Seaman 1st Class Earl P. Baum, 19, of Chicago, accounted for Aug. 23;

Navy Seaman 1st Class George E. Naegle, 22, of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, accounted for Aug. 27;

Navy Seaman 1st Class James W. Holzhauer, 23, of Virginia, accounted for Aug. 27; and

Navy Radioman 3rd Class Bruce H. Ellison, 21, of Poulsbo, Washington, accounted for Aug. 27.

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The agency also works to identify the remains of those who served in other wars, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam. 

Stephen Gross told the News Courier he was involved in the attempts to identify his uncle’s body from the beginning of the effort. He said he traveled to POW/MIA events and borrowed some of his uncle’s memorabilia from the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives. 

“I wanted to be able to show them to my mother before she passed away,” Gross said

Unfortunately, his mother died last year, never knowing that his uncle’s body would soon be identified. 

Ed Gross, already a Navy veteran of 16 years, was living in California with his wife, Pearl Marbut Gross, when he was recalled into service, according to the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives. He was in the engine room of the USS Oklahoma when more than 350 Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, sinking eight battleships, three destroyers and three cruisers. A total of 169 American aircraft were destroyed. 

Pearl Gross received a telegram two weeks after the attack, which stated, “The Navy Department regrets to inform you that your husband, Edgar David Gross, is missing,” the museum’s website said

The widow, who later remarried, died in January 1997 in Athens, online records show. She was 86 years old. 

The remaining family members plan to bring Ed Gross’ remains home to Limestone County, where he will be buried in Evans Cemetery, the News Courier said. The cemetery is located near Mary Davis Hollow and Gross roads. 

Gross Road is named for Ed Gross, according to the newspaper. The sailor’s nephew said he would like to see him buried on Dec. 7, the 77th anniversary of his death. 

DPAA officials report that of the more than 400,000 Americans killed in World War II, 72,866 remain unaccounted for. About 26,000 of those are classified as possibly recoverable. 

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