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Walter Sidney Belt Jr. was a United States Navy sailor who was killed on the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His remains were identified on March 3, 2021.

Background

Walter Belt Jr. was born on July 15, 1916 to Walter Sidney and Anna Zelenka Belt in Kansas. He grew up with seven other siblings, five sisters and two brothers. At some point in his life, he enlisted in the United States Navy. He was eventually assigned as a Fireman, 1st Class, to the USS Oklahoma.

Pearl Harbor

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 capsized. Belt 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 Belt, 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.

Aftermath

Belt was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. His name is featured at the USS Oklahoma Memorial and the Courts of the Missing of the Honolulu Memorial in Honolulu. He also had a memorial marker at Ellsworth Cemetery in Ellsworth, Kansas.

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 Belt, along with many soldiers whose remains were not identified, as unrecoverable.

Identification

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 DPAA 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, Walter Sidney Belt Jr. was identified on March 3, 2021. His identification was announced on August 26, 2021. He will be buried at Ellsworth Cemetery in on October 9, 2021.

Sources

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