The remains of Navy Chief Warrant Officer John Arnold Austin have recently been identified by the Pentagon in the US.
Naval Officer Austin was on board the Nevada-Class Dreadnought USS Oklahoma on December 7th, 1941 when it was struck by Japanese torpedoes.
Hailed as a hero by crewmates, thirty-six-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Austin was reported to have helped 15 men through an open porthole to safety when the USS Oklahoma capsized at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor. He died alongside 428 fellow crew members.
John Austin was born in 1905 in Warrior, Alabama. He enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 15 in 1920. He signed on as a Carpenter, 3rd class and worked his way up through the system to become Chief Carpenter (Chief Warrant Officer – W2) in October 1941.
The Oklahoma was moored in Battleship Row when it was struck twice in quick succession by Japanese torpedoes a few minutes before 8 am. Crewmen ran to man the anti-aircraft guns, but as the firing locks were in the armory, they could not return fire.
The rest of the crew manned battle-stations below the waterline, which was the protocol during an aerial attack.
Minutes later, another torpedo struck close to where the previous torpedoes had found their mark. This time, the hull was breached. The fuel bunkers were destroyed and the structure was ripped apart. The Oklahoma began to list and then capsize to port.
The Japanese came in for a further pass and hit the ship with another two torpedoes while strafing men in the process of abandoning ship.
In less than 12 minutes, the USS Oklahoma had tipped over to a point where its masts had hit the bottom of the harbor, leaving its starboard side and a part of the keel exposed. Some of the crew were able to get on board the USS Maryland where they could support that ship’s anti-aircraft batteries.
Many men were trapped inside the upturned hull of the Oklahoma. Rescue efforts stretched into the night. By the end of the battle, out of the 1,400-strong crew, more than 400 officers and enlisted men were reckoned to be dead or missing in action.
John Austin’s remains were among 80 transported to Halawa and Nu’uana cemeteries. They were disinterred after the end of the war and in 1947, thirty-five were identified and repatriated. The remaining 45 were transferred to the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, also known as the Punchbowl.
Two years later, the Pentagon listed Austin’s remains as unrecoverable. This continues to be the case for more than 70,000 of the 400,000 Americans who gave their lives in combat during World War Two.
Following his death, Austin was awarded the Navy Cross.
In 1942, an Evarts class destroyer was laid down and named the USS Austin in his honor. It was launched in September 1942 and saw action in the North Pacific, off the coast of Alaska, and as an escort ship at Iwo Jima before being decommissioned in 1945.
In 2015, efforts to identify the remains of the service personnel still listed as non-recoverable were re-started, and in September 2018, John Arnold Austin was positively identified using mitochondrial DNA, dental records, and anthropological analysis.
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The scientists of the DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System recently estimated that some 26,000 bodies are now likely to be recoverable.
Austin’s name sits alongside his 44 comrades at the Punchbowl, but it will soon have a rosette placed beside it to indicate that he has been identified and properly accounted for.