Elmer Edwin Drefahl was a United States Marine who was was killed on the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His remains were identified on September 29, 2020.
Elmer Drefahl was born on June 1, 1919 (or December 15, 1919) to Edwin and Hilda Drefahl in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Nearly spending his entire childhood along 18th Street in the Park View and Arlington Heights neighborhoods, Drefahl attended Rufus King High School. He was active athletics, particularly wresting. He graduated in the summer of 1939 and joined the United States Marine Corps in Illinois on May 1940. At boot camp and Sea School, Drefahl earned high marks and even earned an expert rifleman's rating. Drefahl joined the Marine detachment aboard the USS Oklahoma. He was likely assigned to a anti-aircraft battery position as he was known for his gunnery skills. He was promoted to corporal eighteen months after enlistment.
Pearl Harbor Attack
At about 7:48 AM on December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service conducted a surprise military strike against the United States at the naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The USS Oklahoma was one of the first ships to be attacked. The ship was torpedoed and was capsized. Drefahl was killed during the attack, though his exact circumstances are unknown. His remains were located between 1941 and 1944, but not identified. As a result, he was considered Missing in Action while his remains were buried in the Punchbowl at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Overall, 2,335 Americans were killed in the attack, 429, including Drefahl, were on the USS Oklahoma. The surprise attack led to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to declare December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy". The following day, the US Congress declared war on Japan which led to the United States' formal entry into World War II.
After his death, Drefahl was awarded the Purple Heart.
In September 1947, the American Graves Registration Service was tasked to identify unknown soldier's remains from the Pacific Theatre. However, they were only able to identify thirty-five of the crewmen from the USS Oklahoma. In October 1949, the American Graves Registration Service ruled Drefahl, along with many soldiers whose remains were not identified, as unrecoverable.
Drefahl's name is featured on the USS Oklahoma Memorial and the Honolulu Memorial of the Courts of the Missing, Court 2.
In 2015, the Department of Defense and the Defense POW/MIA accounting agency initiated a program to exhume the unidentified sailors of the USS Oklahoma to try and match their DNA against the DNA of family members whose loved ones were never identified. Scientists at the D.P.A.A. used anthropological analysis and scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and autosomal DNA (auSTR) analysis to identify the servicemen.
Through these methods, Elmer Edwin Drefahl was identified on September 29, 2020. The identification was announced on October 2, 2020. His burial details are currently pending.