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After 80 Years, Navy IDs Three Brothers Who Died at Pearl Harbor

barber brothers
Courtesy USN / DPAA

Published Jun 22, 2021 7:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced that three brothers who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack - Navy Fireman 1st Class Malcolm Barber, 22, Fireman 1st Class Leroy Barber, 21, and Fireman 2nd Class Randolph Barber, 19 - have been formally accounted for after nearly 80 years of uncertainty. 

The three brothers from New London, Wisconsin were assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, the base was bombed by Japanese aircraft in a surprise attack. Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, and she quickly capsized. 429 members of her crew died in the attack, including the Barber brothers.

"Battleship Row" after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The capsized USS Oklahoma is visible the foreground, behind her is USS Maryland (BB-46), and USS West Virginia (BB-48) is burning on the right (USN / National Archives)

Over the next four years, U.S. Navy personnel recovered the remains of Oklahoma's deceased crew, and they were buried in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries on Oahu. In September 1947, the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks, Honolulu for analysis.

Using the technology of the time, the laboratory's staff could only confirm the identity of 35 men from USS Oklahoma. The AGRS reburied the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP) in Honolulu, better known as the Punchbowl. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified - including the Barber brothers - as non-recoverable.

In 2015, to bring closure to the case, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed the USS Oklahoma Unknowns once more for a second round of analysis, and the team identified the remains of the Barber brothers. The brothers’ names are recorded at the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to their names to indicate they have been accounted for.