WICHITA FALLS, Texas (TNN) - An ungodly number of American military personnel killed in World War two remain unaccounted for in 2019, totaling more than 72,000. Now thanks to new technology one Texoma family left with questions and no definitive answer finally has some closure to the whereabouts of one of their own killed in the attack, it’s all thanks to a DNA match.
On December 7th, 1941, Fireman First Class Bethel Walters from Bellevue was on the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. After being hit by multiple torpedoes in the attack, it sank killing the 106 aboard. He was among the 35 there left unidentified and buried. Now they’ve been exhumed and thanks to the work of scientists, Bethel can now be given a burial with honors back home in Texas.
“Now we know who he is, we know where he was at. Now we're bringing him home,” Patrick Walters, Bethel’s nephew said.
77 years later, it’s a discovery brings much relief to his living relatives, including his nephew.
“Because my grandmother wanted him buried by her,” Patrick said.
Now after years of work by the Defense POW MIA Accounting Agency, they can be. Walter says it's been a process that has lasted ten years now. Recently, he saw a spike in sailors being identified on another ship, the USS Oklahoma.
“So I thought maybe something is stirring, sure enough about two months later we started getting phone calls,” Patrick said.
One of those calls came two weeks ago from a genealogist trying to reach out to the family.
“As soon as I gave her that, two days later I got a phone call from the Department of the Navy saying they have identified them (Walter),” Patrick said.
This all comes thanks to new DNA technology that makes what was impossible in the 40's a reality.
“We can compare them to these databases and match them up with family members,” SFC. Sean Everette with the Defense POW MIA Accounting Agency said.
The process can take months, even years to complete, but the hard work they do is worth it.
“They didn’t get the closure bringing their service member home and burying them, and so this gives us the chance to give those families the chance for closure,” SFC. Everette said.
“If there is one thing that our military does right, this is it. They take care of the fallen soldiers,” Patrick said.
Bethel Walters will be laid to rest in the spring, traveling from Hawaii to Bowie, Texas.
To this day over 81,000 soldiers are still unaccounted for from all wars since WWII combined. Through the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency they work to bring that number closer to zero each day.
More on Bethel’s story can be found here.