(KMSP) - With the help of new technology and a simple DNA sample, the remains of a Minnesota WWII veteran killed at Pearl Harbor are finally coming home after more than seven decades.
Joseph Johnson graduated from Rushford, Minn., High School in 1939, where he was a fullback on the football team. Like a lot of young men around that time, he joined the Navy the following year and was assigned as a radio operator on the USS Oklahoma when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
His nephew, Dennis Rislove, says the first of six torpedos that hit the ship likely killed him before it capsized. The resulting wreck trapped hundreds of the sailors in its overturned hull, with few making it out alive.
"You feel better about that than he was inside that overturned ship slowly drowning over the next 48 hours.," Rislove said. "That's what a lot of guys did."
For decades, Johnson was listed as killed in action--but his remains were never identified and he was ultimately buried at the Punchbowl Cemetary in Hawaii with nearly 400 other "unknowns" who died that day. That is, until now.
Advances in technology prompted the Defense POW/MIA accounting agency to reach out to Rislove for a DNA sample a few years ago in an effort to identify Johnson's remains. Recently he found out there had been a match.
"Think of it for all the soldiers like Joe," Rislove said. "That's certainly emotional."
Now, on July 6--76 years after his death--Johnson's remains will arrive at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and laid to rest the next day in his hometown.
"I think its great," Rislove said. "The idea of bringing everybody home, that 'no man left behind' kind of idea is perfect."