CHICAGO– Herbert “Bert” Jacobson will be laid to rest on Tuesday, more than 80 years after he was killed in the attack that brought the United States into World War II.
Members of the Jacobson family have waited their entire lives to attend a funeral for the young man they knew but never met. Jacobson was among more than 400 sailors and Marines killed on the USS Oklahoma during the December 1 attack. January 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The casket containing his remains will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
“This has been an unsolved mystery and it gives us closure to finally find out what happened to Bert, where he is and that he is finally being buried after being listed as an unknown for so long,” said Brad McDonald, a nephew. .
The service in Arlington will be the latest chapter in the story of a 21-year-old man from the small town of Grayslake, in northern Illinois, for the family that never had a body to bury when he was killed and the scientific quest to put names . to the remains of hundreds of battleship personnel who lay anonymously buried for decades in a dormant volcanic crater near Pearl Harbor.
It is a waiting story.
The battleship remained submerged for two years before it was refloated and the bodies recovered. A few years later, the men’s graves in Oklahoma were reopened in the hope that dental records might lead to their names. But 27 sets of remains went unidentified and had to be reburied in the crater, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, commonly known as Punchbowl.
Another effort to identify around 100 sets of remains was unsuccessful in 2003.
In 2015, the Department of Defense announced plans to re-exhume the remains.
“We now have the ability to forensically test these remains and produce the identifications,” Debra Prince Zinni, a forensic anthropologist and laboratory manager at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii, told The Associated Press at the time. .
That gave new hope to members of the Jacobson family, who had been disappointed by each failed effort. The AP was told that Jacobson’s mother cried every December 12. 7, at least in part because she never knew where she was.
“She was always hoping that the phone would ring and it would be Bert,” McDonald said.
The 2015 effort, Project Oklahoma, has led to the identification of 355 men, including Jacobson, who were killed when their ship was hit by at least nine torpedoes. That leaves 33 sets of remains yet to be identified. To mark the 80th anniversary of the attack, those unidentified remains were reburied, said Gene Hughes, public affairs officer for Navy Personnel Command. He has worked with the families of those killed in Oklahoma, including relatives of Jacobson.
For the Jacobson family, any hope that they knew exactly what happened on December 1. 7, 1941, faded long ago. All they knew from talking to Jacobson’s shipmates was that he had just finished his service after spending several hours ferrying men to shore.
McDonald said a good friend of his Navy uncle said he was pretty sure Jacobson “was asleep in his bunk and died before he knew there was a war going on. But we really don’t know.”
That left one final question: What happened to Bert Jacobson’s body?
The answer came in 2019, when McDonald said the family was notified that Jacobson’s remains had been identified. Hoping the burial could take place next year, they were forced to wait, largely because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed most gatherings, including funerals.
Now, they’re getting the closure that Jacobson’s parents and other family members never had.
“I wish they could have seen this,” McDonald said of his grandparents, parents and others.
For him, seeing the guy he never knew take his place at Arlington is especially meaningful.
“When Bert joined the Navy, he met a guy from South Dakota who was an orphan,” McDonald said. “When they got a weekend pass, Bert took him home and the orphan met his little sister ( of Bert).”
Orville McDonald and Norma Jacobson dated and later got married, giving McDonald a favorite ending to that story.
“That orphan was my dad, and Bert’s sister was my mom,” he said. “So, I wouldn’t be here without Bert.”