Windsor man’s DNA test helps ID the remains of his father, who died in Pearl Harbor attack
George Hudson didn’t really have much interest in analyzing his DNA.
“My wife said, ‘Do 23andMe,’” Hudson recalled with a shrug. “I don’t know why.”
The results Hudson received from the genomics company were pretty much what he had expected: 95% English/Irish descent, clustered around Dublin, and names of some potential distant cousins.
The surprise came a few months later. First was a phone call from a Navy representative bearing a single question: Was George the son of Charles Hudson? When he answered that he was, the caller said he’d be in touch.
What came next would be an elaborate dance with a stunning outcome. Nearly 80 years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the government had, for the first time, identified the remains of Charles Hudson, USN Water Tender 1st Class, who died aboard the USS Oklahoma.
In the nearly 80 years since the Japanese military attack of Dec. 7, 1941, those remains had twice been buried together with other bones, before being exhumed more recently for genetic analysis. It’s all part of a sweeping program by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to identify and rebury the remains of previously unidentified soldiers, sailors, Marines and flyers.
The USS Oklahoma counted 429 of those casualties. Only the USS Arizona suffered more in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Oklahoma was part of Battleship Row, a group of seven ships anchored in formation off Ford Island. It was in the position closest to the mouth of the harbor, which made it most vulnerable to approaching Japanese planes.
“The war is hell,” George Hudson, 82, said from the home he shares with his wife, Leslie, in Windsor. “We grew up without our father. I hear people say, ‘My father this, my father that.’ I can’t say that.”
But now he will have a gravesite to visit, in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, popularly known as the Punchbowl and situated in a volcanic crater on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The Navy will bury Charles Hudson with full honors on Friday. George will be there, three weeks after his sixth surgery for bladder cancer, and a few days before his seventh.
‘The worst part was picking up survivors’
The USS Oklahoma was commissioned in 1916. She escorted Allied convoys during World War I, and rescued American citizens and refugees in the Spanish Civil War. In December of 1940, the ship arrived at Pearl Harbor for patrols and exercises.
Almost exactly one year later, just before dawn on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, the Japanese launched a surprise attack of the base, which hosted a large part of the U.S. Naval fleet.
“I was just getting up,” recalled Larry Petretti, 98, Sonoma County’s last Pearl Harbor survivor. “As I walked out the hatch door, the Arizona exploded and practically knocked me back in. We were anchored approximately 1,000 yards from there. We didn’t have any bombs thrown at us, but there was a lot of machine guns fired at us.”
Petretti, a bosun’s mate on the repair ship USS Whitney, was a teenager at the time, unprepared for the magnitude of the day.
“The worst part for me, after the battle, was going around picking up survivors,” he said. “They were all burnt and falling apart.”
The Oklahoma, much closer to open ocean than the Whitney — which was moored near the shore of McGrew Point — was actually supposed to be out at sea on patrol that morning. But an admiral was scheduled to inspect Battleship Row the next day, and the crew was advised to stay put. The first three aerial torpedoes hit the ship about 7:55 a.m. Much of the crew was sleeping below deck and never made it to fresh air.
As Japanese planes strafed the deck with machine-gun fire, six more torpedoes hit the Oklahoma, ripping open its port side. Within 15 minutes of the first strike, the giant had rolled to its port side and almost completely capsized.
A few dozen sailors escaped, most of them hopping onto the neighboring USS Maryland to join the fight.
Most did not. Among the dead were seven men, including three brothers, for whom the United States would name warships. One of those was Father Aloysius Schmitt, the first American chaplain of any faith to die in World War II.
The seamen trapped inside would bang on the interior of the ship for three days, and 32 were extracted alive through holes cut in the bulkhead on Dec. 8 and 9. The others were below the water line and couldn’t be helped. Finally, the banging stopped.
A difficult, fatherless childhood
George Hudson was 3 when his father died.