CARY, North Carolina — A Cary family mourns a loved one they never met. They held out hope that one day the remains of 21-year-old Herbert Jacobson, who was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, would surface.
Now the day has come, and with it, a proper burial in Washington, D.C.
The story begins in 1920 when Jacobson was born.
“Bert grew up in Grayslake, Illinois,” said his nephew, Brad McDonald.
At age 20, he enlisted in the Navy, and as a firefighter 3rd class, Jacobson was assigned to the USS Oklahoma.
“Bert traveled to Hawaii on September 11, 1941. He was there only a short time before the attack happened,” McDonald said.
Jacobson was among the most sailors and marines killed on the USS Oklahoma when Japanese warplanes bombed the base on December 7, 1941.
“In all likelihood he was sound asleep when the attack happened,” McDonald said.
“It was a sad day for our grandmother, who never knew where her son was,” said Jacobson’s niece, Dawn Silsbee.
The family was like hundreds of others who had never had a body to bury. Jacobson’s remains were probably scattered in a dormant volcanic crater near Pearl Harbor.
“The identification process in 1949 wasn’t that great,” McDonald said. “They finally perfected the DNA techniques. That’s when they made progress.”
For decades, Jacobson’s nephew and nieces, who live in Cary and have never met their uncle, waited for the phone to ring while attending meetings with Navy medical examiners who continued to collect data. DNA samples in hopes of a match.
Year after year, it fell short.
“[Navy forensic scientists] said, “We think we can identify him, but it won’t be in your lifetime,” McDonald said.
Then, a phone call came in 2019. The 80-year-long quest to find Jacobson’s remains had been resolved.
“The medical examiner said it was a slam dunk,” McDonald said.
Jacobson’s skull, jaw, shoulders and both sets of arms and legs were found. Now his remains will be in a coffin filled with memories and heirlooms.
“It represents closure, the end of a long, long journey,” McDonald said.
Jacobson’s remains were interred September 13 at Arlington National Cemetery.
“It was more than we expected, but everything Bert deserved,” McDonald said.
“We never lost hope.”
The Oklahoma Project led to the identification of 355 men, including Jacobson, who were killed on the USS Oklahoma in 1941. This leaves 33 remains to be identified.