DNA from letters home helps ID Pearl Harbor casualty
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
Before he died at Pearl Harbor, less than a month after turning 18, Gerald Lehman sent home to Michigan letters that his mother came to treasure.
In them, the teen talked about going through Navy training in Great Lakes, Ill. — falling out of his sleeping hammock once — and how much he liked his new woolen uniform.
In graceful penmanship, he asked about the family dog, Duke; wrote about waiting to ship out from California on the battleship USS Oklahoma; and seeing the mountains and rainbows of O'ahu from the doomed ship.
Unknowingly, Lehman sent home to those who loved him something else, something that wouldn't be useful until decades later: his own DNA.
Sixty-eight years after he was killed on Dec. 7, 1941, DNA lifted from the envelopes Lehman had licked helped the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command positively identify the young sailor's remains.
Lehman had been buried as an "unknown" at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. His journey home began with research by a Pearl Harbor survivor and inquiries into the death of the Navy fireman third class by his niece, Peggy Germain.
Germain remembers getting a phone call in 2006 from the Michigan volunteer coordinator of a USS Oklahoma group saying remains tentatively identified as her uncle had been found.
"I began crying and calling for my husband to hear the news," she said.
U.S. casualties affairs representatives made an official visit to her home on March 3 of this year.
It had been the "dearest wish" of her mother, who died in 2005, to get her baby brother back for burial, she said.
Germain said her uncle's remains will receive a military escort from Hawai'i to Michigan in June.
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