68 years later, WWII sailor returned home for burial

Remains identified by DNA found on envelopes

June 17, 2010

An 18-year-old World War II sailor from the Upper Penninsula of Michigan, whose remains were identified by DNA matching samples found on letters he mailed home, was finally laid to rest last Saturday.

U.S. Navy Fireman 3rd Class Gerald G. Lehman, from Hancock, Mich., was killed in action Dec. 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor while he was aboard the USS Oklahoma. Although his remains had been located through the coordinated efforts of an independent researcher with the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, a volunteer coordinator of the USS Oklahoma Unknowns and Lehman’s niece, Peggy Germain, hopes of making a positive identification had dimmed because his mitochondrial DNA matched those of a second sailor he was buried with. A family member provided scientists with a stack of letters from which they were able to retrieve uncontaminated DNA samples from the flaps of the letter. Germain told National Public Radio in an earlier interview that Lehman’s mother had slit the envelopes vertically down the side, rather than across the top, thus preserving adequate, uncontaminated samples of Lehman’s nuclear DNA.

Lehman’s remains, confirmed earlier this year, were returned home for burial at a cemetery in Houghton, Mich. His burial was preceded by a police escort, and members of the Patriot Guard riders, the Forgotten Eagles, local American Legion and VFW posts, U.S. Coast Guard, Marine Corps League, Calumet Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and other organizations lined the route. He was buried with full military honors including a 21-gun salute.

Sources: Houghton Daily Mining Gazette (miningjournal.net) and NPR (npr.org)

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