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Search for lost goes beyond Pearl Harbor

Originally published in The Villages Daily Sun by Veronica Wernicke

Dwight Ganoe still remembers the day in 1970 when military officers came to his parents’ front door in Belleview. His older brother, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Berman Ganoe, was missing in action in the Vietnam War. “I was about 15 years old at the time, and I thought I was dreaming,” said Dwight, who still lives in Belleview. “It took maybe a day or so and I saw how it affected my parents. It was unreal for a while.” Berman was on a rescue mission March 24, 1970, when his helicopter was shot down in Cambodia. After he was missing for a few months, Berman was presumed dead. His remains weren’t discovered until almost 30 years later, and Berman’s body wasn’t positively identified until June 2001.

Today, he is buried at Highland Memorial Park in Ocala, where Dwight and his family can regularly visit and remember Berman and his sacrifice.

“I was glad (the U.S. Department of Defense) did this,” Dwight said. “I didn’t know they would keep looking after so many years. There was a lot of work that they put into it. They had to hike into this area and clear out a site for a helicopter to be brought in and pick up what they had found. It meant a lot to me and I know it did to the rest of my family.” 

Efforts by the Department of Defense to locate troops who are missing or killed in action and recover and identify their bodies date back to World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which was 81 years ago today.

Just before 8 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese military launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, bringing the United States into World War II. 

The attack lasted one hour and 15 minutes with 353 Japanese aircraft launched from four heavy carriers, including 40 torpedo planes, 103 level bombers, 131 dive-bombers and 79 fighters, as well as two heavy cruisers, 35 submarines, two light cruisers, nine oilers, two battleships and 11 destroyers, according to the National World War II Museum.

More than 2,400 Americans were killed. 

Accounting for the Missing

Since that attack, the United States has worked to identify those entombed in the sunken ships at Pearl Harbor as well as military personnel from later wars and conflicts. 

In fact, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense, has worked with archaeologists, anthropologists, and forensic odontologists to fulfill its mission to “provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation.”

By the end of World War II in 1945, more than 418,000 Americans had died, according to the National World War II Museum.

Roughly 280,000 people’s remains were identified in a massive effort immediately following the war, and about 1,000 more have been identified since the renewal of recovery efforts in the 1970s, according to the DPAA.

In 2015, the agency started the USS Oklahoma Project in an effort to identify the 394 unaccounted-for service members who died on the ship.

Their remains were disinterred from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. And, between 2015 and 2021, the DPAA worked with scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System using mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA analysis.

As of 2021, about 90% of USS Oklahoma military personnel had been identified.

“This is huge for us because it allows us to complete our analyses of all of the USS Oklahoma remains, and, therefore, identify as many service members as possible,” said Carrie LeGarde, the USS Oklahoma Project lead, in a press release. “The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s DNA testing has been a really critical part, and so the family reference samples have been the other half of that critical component because we need to be able to match the DNA to something. We’ve had pretty good success with getting family reference samples.” 

The USS Oklahoma Project ended last year, but it’s just one of the many ongoing efforts to help identify MIA troops from all U.S.-involved conflicts. The DPAA also keeps a record and releases information of all troops whose remains are accounted for on its website. 

But the work continues.

“The sacrifices those people like Berman made need to be remembered,” Dwight Ganoe said. “I want my grandchildren to be able to go to his grave and read the plaque and see what took place. Even though he was long gone before they were ever around, it’s good for them to see it.” 

Many Remain

Although many American families have had the opportunity to be reunited with their missing servicemen or women, not everyone gets that chance.

As it stands today, there are more than 72,000 U.S. service members missing from World War II, more than 7,500 from the Korean War, more than 1,500 missing from the Vietnam War and 126 missing from the Cold War, according to the DPAA. About 39,000 of them are estimated to be recoverable.

Atticus “Snooky” Blanton, of Lady Lake, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II as a Shipfitter Third Class. 

He is one of the more than 1,000 sailors who died while stationed on the USS Arizona and is unaccounted for. He has been deemed unrecoverable as his body likely lies at sea, according to the DPAA. 

However, he is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. And the town of Lady Lake is honoring Blanton and his service by naming a new park after him. 

There also is information about Blanton on display at the Lady Lake Historical Society and Museum in its Service and Sacrifice exhibit.

And his name and Purple Heart are embedded at the Lady Lake Cemetery where his mother, Annie Blanton, is buried.

“We feel really responsible for keeping the community involved in what’s going on and what has gone on,” said Suzanne Hurteau, executive director at the Lady Lake musuem. “This exhibit is very near and dear to my heart because veterans are such special people. A lot of them gave everything for us to live the lives that we now enjoy. The very least we can do is keep them in our memories.”

 According to his biography at the museum, 18-year-old Blanton enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Sept. 30, 1940. He started off as a seaman apprentice on the USS Arizona and was eventually promoted to Shipfitter Third Class. He is one of the 1,177 service members who died onboard the USS Arizona.

“The fact that we have information on him at all today is awesome because we could very easily not have information and never know the whole story,” Hurteau said. “It made me very sad to read his story because he was very excited about being in the U.S. Navy and going on his first assignment, and that’s as far as he got. It’s so sad, and there are lots of other people just like him.” 

Snooky Park will be located off of Old Dixie Highway and West Lady Lake Boulevard, behind the log cabin.

And the DPAA will continue its mission of reuniting families with the remains of their loved ones for as long as it takes.

“I am hopeful that not only will the DPAA achieve everything that we have promised the families but that we continue to always do more,” said Fern Sumpter-Winbush, principal deputy director for the DPAA, in a press release. “For those serving today, if you should ever go missing — after hostilities cease we are coming for you.”