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Casualties of USS Oklahoma

Two Navy brothers from Minot accounted for from World War II

Submitted Photo Calvin H. Palmer

Brothers Navy Seaman 2nd Class Calvin H. Palmer, 23, and Navy Seaman 2nd Class Wilferd D. Palmer, 21, of Minot, died when the battleship USS Oklahoma, moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, was attacked by Japanese aircraft on Dec. 7, 1941.

Now 78 years later, the two brothers were accounted for on March 19, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

Helene Jensen, the Palmer brothers’ niece from Port Orchard, Wash., told the Minot Daily News on Monday that her father, Charles F. Burns, who also was onboard the USS Oklahoma when the ship was attacked “tried to save them to get them out of the laundry room but was unsuccessful.” She said her father had to jump off the ship but the water was full of flames. “He found an opening without flames,” she said. He was able to get to shore. She said the Oklahoma and other ships in the harbor were not armed because it was not wartime.

Jensen’s father died in 1992. Her mother, Doris, then married Warren Houk. She is 95 and resides in Port Orchard. Besides the two brothers and Doris, the Palmer family included two sisters Florence and Joyce, all children of Harry and Rosie Palmer. The two brothers and Doris were born in Minot and the Florence and Joyce also may have been born here. The Palmer family moved from Minot to San Francisco and Calvin and Wilferd joined the Navy.

According to DPAA, the Palmer brothers were among 429 crewmen who died in the attack on the USS Oklahoma.

Submitted Photo Wilferd D. Palmer

From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries. In September 1947, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS), tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including the brothers.

Between June and November 2015, DPAA personnel exhumed the USS Oklahoma unknown remains from the Punchbowl for analysis. To identify the Palmers’ remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological analysis as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA and analysis.

Jensen said she knew the story about her uncles who went down with the ship and has been to Pearl Harbor but when DPAA contacted her about a month ago, it was a complete surprise. She said her aunt had provided a positive DNA sample before her death.

Jensen said she has done some research on her uncles. She said she’s excited to have their story told and for people to hear about the sacrifices they made.

“We are grateful that the Palmer brothers, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation at Pearl Harbor, have now been accounted for,” said Sen. John Hoeven. “These brave brothers, who perished along with 427 others on the USS Oklahoma during the attacks on Pearl Harbor, remind us yet again of the bravery and sacrifices of our nation’s Greatest Generation.” Hoeven serves on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee

Plans are for the brothers to be buried in early August in Port Orchard, where other family members and their friend from the USS Oklahoma Charles Burns are buried, Jensen said.

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