Alfred Wells wasn’t supposed to be on board the USS Oklahoma the morning the Japanese launched their surprise attack on U.S. warships and military bases in Hawaii, but Wells, 32, agreed to swap places with another sailor.
By the time the bombing was over, the Oklahoma had capsized at its berth in Pearl Harbor, entombing the bodies of more than 400 servicemen, including Wells, who was standing watch on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, in place of another sailor who wanted to go ashore for the day.
This weekend, nearly 75 years after he was killed, Wells’ remains will be laid to rest in a veterans’ cemetery in his upstate New York hometown.
Japanese planes hit the Oklahoma with multiple torpedoes, causing the battleship to capsize quickly. Thirty-two men were rescued via holes cut through the hull, but 14 Marines and 415 sailors were killed. The Navy spent 2 1/2 years recovering remains from the ship, but the military wasn’t able to identify most of them, and buried hundreds as “unknowns” in a Honolulu cemetery.
Last year, the Pentagon’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began digging up their remains, saying advances in forensic science and technology have made identification more feasible. DPAA announced last week that Wells’ remains had been identified using DNA samples provided by a cousin and other evidence.