Navy Fireman 3rd Class Gerald G. Lehman died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. For over 68 years his Hancock, Michigan family has known only that their loved one was likely buried as an “unknown” at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Lehman’s remains were returned to his family and he was buried with full military honors in June 2010. He was among the 429 Sailors and Marines lost when the USS Oklahoma went down. Thirty-six bodies were identified the same day of the attack. After the USS Oklahoma was raised from the waters some 6 month later, 393 were buried as “unknowns” in the National Memorial Cemetery.
In 2003, an independent researcher contacted the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) with information he believed indicated that one of the USS Oklahoma casualties who was buried as an unknown could be positively identified. After reviewing the case, JPAC exhumed the casket and discovered that it contained Lehman’s remains.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used dental comparisons and mitochondrial DNA – which matched that of his sister and nieces — in the identification of Lehman’s remains.
Lehman was only 17 years old on December 7, 1941. A Facebook page set-up in his honor quotes a niece saying the identification and the homecoming were “surreal,” and a nephew who said, “most funerals are sad situations, but not this one.”
Saturday, the family held a funeral for their Uncle Gerald, a brave sailor who died on-board the USS Oklahoma when it sank in Pearl Harbor almost 70 years ago.
More than 130 friends and relatives packed the cathedral at Hancock’s Church of the Resurrection, and even more than that encircled his casket when it arrived at Forest Hill Cemetery in Houghton – Lehman’s final resting place.
Several people spoke to honor the life of this sailor who died when he was just 18. Among them, Sharon Lahti, the wife of Representative Mike Lahti. She presented Lehman’s family with a plaque, a tribute, on behalf of the state of Michigan. Flags statewide were flown at half-mast Saturday in Lehman’s honor.
With new forensic technology, perhaps Navy Fireman 3rd Class Gerald G. Lehman will not be the last casualty of World War II to be returned to family.