CARY, NC – A Cary family is mourning a loved one they’ve never met. They have kept the hope that one day the remains of 21-year-old Herbert Jacobson, who was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, will be found.
Now the day has come, and with it a proper funeral in Washington, DC
The story begins in 1920 when Jacobson was born.
“Bert grew up in Grayslake, Illinois,” said his cousin, Brad McDonald.
At 20, he entered the Navy, and as a Fireman 3rd Class, Jacobson was assigned to the USS Oklahoma.
“Bert reported to Hawaii on September 11, 1941. He was there only a short time before the attack happened,” McDonald said.
Jacobson was among more than sailors and marines killed on the USS Oklahoma when Japanese fighter planes blitzed the base on December 7, 1941.
“Apparently he was sound asleep when the attack occurred,” McDonald said.
“It was a day of grief for our grandmother, who never knew where her son was,” said Dawn Silsbee, Jacobson’s cousin.
The family was like hundreds of others who never had a body to bury. Jacobson’s remains were likely scattered over a dormant volcanic crater near Pearl Harbor.
“The identification process in 1949 was not that great,” McDonald said. “They eventually perfected the DNA techniques. That’s when they made progress.”
For decades, Jacobson’s nephews 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 on 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,'” McDonald said.
Then there was a phone call in 2019. The 80-year search to find Jacobson’s remains had been solved.
“The forensic scientist 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 full of memories and heirlooms.
“This represents closure, the end of a long, long journey,” McDonald said.
Jacobson’s remains were buried September 13 at Arlington National Cemetery.
“It was more than we expected, but everything Bert deserved,” McDonald said.
“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 identified.