After 78 years, an Alabama boy is finally coming home.
Water Tender 2nd Class Edgar D. Gross, of Athens, perished on the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. After multiple torpedo hits, the ship capsized and sank, with 429 crewmen losing their lives.
Decades later, with the help of genetic material donated by his ancestors, the sailor was finally identified last year. A funeral and burial service for Gross will be held in Limestone County on Memorial Day.
“What we were thinking would be six to eight months turned into seven years,” said Gross’ grand-nephew Steve Gross, who donated his DNA several years before. “Sept. 7, 2018, is when they officially identified him. I felt like it was a dream (when I received the call). The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I cried.”
From 1941 to 1944, the Navy recovered the remains of the deceased USS Oklahoma crew and interred them in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries. In 1947, the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks on Oahu. Only 35 men were identified from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The unidentified remains were subsequently interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, commonly known as the Punchbowl. In October 1949, those who could not be identified were classified as non-recoverable. Gross’ name was on that list.
Decades later, the deputy secretary of defense ordered the disinterment of unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma. On June 15, 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began exhuming the remains from the Punchbowl for analysis, using mitochondrial DNA from family members, dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence to identify service members.
After donating DNA, it was determined that Steve Gross’ genetic material by itself was not enough to confirm a match. Because female genetic material is stronger, Gross set out to find two female family members. Edgar Gross’ sister’s grandchildren were more than willing to assist in the efforts.
“They used mine as a marker,” he said. “I didn’t know where to start. My mother was still alive and she gave me the name of Carolyn Warren in Illinois and thank God for Google, I was able to locate her after two tries and she knew exactly who I was. When I told her what I was looking for, she was very excited and hopped to it to volunteer her DNA.
“She also gave me the name of her sister Emily McDonald Warren who lives in Florence and she submitted her DNA, as well. Without them, this would not have been possible. Sadly, Carolyn passed away four years ago.”
While the three never met their great-uncle, Gross said that it was instilled in them at a young age that that there was a hero in the family.
“We were informed on many numerous occasions especially around Dec. 7, ‘Don’t forget Uncle Ed,’” he said. “But when you are a kid you don’t really think about something like that because it is just a name, you can’t see him, you can’t touch him.
“But as you get older, you see his name in the history books and there is a sense of pride, not because he died but because you were related to him.”
There are 72,866 American service members from World War II who have never been accounted for. Gross’ name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl alongside fellow World War II missing in action. His name will now be marked with a rosette, indicating identified.
Information provided by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives.