80 years later, Cary family gets closure for loved one killed at Pearl Harbor

CARY, N.C. — A Cary family has been mourning a loved one they have never met. They have 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 starts in 1920 when Jacobson was born.

“Bert grew up in Grayslake, Illinois,” said his nephew, Brad McDonald.

At 20, he enlisted in the Navy, and, as a Fireman 3rd Class, Jacobson was assigned to the USS Oklahoma.

“Bert reported to Hawaii on Sept. 11, 1941. He was only there a short time before the attack occurred,” said McDonald.

Jacobson was among the more than sailors and marines killed on the USS Oklahoma when Japanese fighter planes blitzed the base on Dec. 7, 1941.

“In all likelihood, he was sound asleep when the attack occurred,” said McDonald.

“It was a day of sadness for our grandmother, who never knew where her son was,” said Jacobson’s neice Dawn Silsbee.

The family was like hundreds of others who never had a body to bury. Jacobson’s remains were likely scattered across a dormant volcanic crater near Pearl Harbor.

“The identification process in 1949 wasn’t all that great,” said McDonald. “They finally perfected the DNA techniques. That is when they made progress.”

For decades, Jacobson’s nephew and nieces, who live in Cary and never met their uncle, sat waiting for the phone to ring while attending meetings with the Navy’s forensic scientists who continued to collect DNA samples hoping for a match.

Year after year, it came up short.

“[Navy forensic scientists] said, ‘We think we can identify him, but it won’t be in your lifetime,’” said McDonald.

Then, a phone call came in 2019. The 80-year-long quest in finding Jacobson’s remains had been solved.

“The forensic scientist said it was a slam dunk,” said McDonald.

Jacobson’s skull, jaw, shoulders and both sets of arms and legs were found. Now, his remains will be in a casket filled with mementos and heirlooms.

“This represents closure, the end of a long, long, journey,” said McDonald.

Jacobson’s remains were buried Sept. 13 at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It was more than we expected but all that Bert deserved,” said McDonald.

“We never gave up hope.”

Project Oklahoma, has led to the identification of 355 men, including Jacobson, who were killed on the USS Oklahoma in 1941. That leaves 33 sets of remains still to be identified.

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