Austin Henry Hesler was a United States Navy sailor who was killed on the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His remains were identified on February 24, 2021 along with Michael Malek.
Early Life and Military Service
Austin Hesler was born on February 13, 1920 to Charles and Mary Hesler. At some point in his life, he enlisted into the United States Navy from Phillipsburg, Kansas. His service number is 3421245 and was attatched as a Petty Officer Third Class, with his specialty being Signalman Third Class, to the USS Oklahoma.
At about 7:48 AM on December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service conducted a surprise military strike against the United States at the naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The USS Oklahoma was one of the first ships to be attacked. The ship was torpedoed and capsized. Hesler was killed during the attack, though his exact circumstances are unknown. His remains were located between 1941 and 1944, but not identified. As a result, he was considered Missing in Action while his remains were buried in the Punchbowl at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Overall, 2,335 Americans were killed in the attack, four hundred and twenty-nine, including Hesler, were on the USS Oklahoma. The surprise attack led to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to declare December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy". The following day, the US Congress declared war on Japan which led to the United States' formal entry into World War II.
After his death, Hesler was awarded the Purple Heart.
In September 1947, the American Graves Registration Service was tasked to identify unknown soldier's remains from the Pacific Theatre. However, they were only able to identify thirty-five of the crewmen from the USS Oklahoma. In October 1949, the American Graves Registration Service ruled Hesler, along with many soldiers whose remains were not identified, as unrecoverable.
His name is featured on the USS Oklahoma Memorial in Row 2 and the Honolulu Memorial of the Courts of the Missing in Honolulu, Hawaii. Additionally, he has a grave at Fairview Cemetery in Phillipsburg, Kansas.
In 2015, the Department of Defense and the Defense POW/MIA accounting agency initiated a program to exhume the unidentified sailors of the USS Oklahoma to try and match their DNA against the DNA of family members whose loved ones were never identified. Scientists at the D.P.A.A. used anthropological analysis and scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and autosomal DNA (auSTR) analysis to identify the servicemen.
Through these methods, Austin Henry Hesler was identified on January 28, 2021.