WASHINGTON – The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that Navy Seaman 1st Class James R. Ward, 20, of Springfield, Ohio, killed during World War II, and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, was accounted for on Aug. 19, 2021.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Ward was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen.
Before the ship capsized and the order was given to abandon ship, Ward remained in a turret holding a flashlight so the remainder of the turret crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life. For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, Ward’s parents were presented with his Medal of Honor in March 1942. And the destroyer escort USS J. Richard Ward DE-243 was named in honor of Seaman Ward. It was commissioned in 1943 and decommissioned in 1946.
From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries.
In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Ward.
Between June and November 2015, DPAA personnel exhumed the USS Oklahoma Unknowns from the Punchbowl for analysis.
To identify Ward’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
Ward’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Ward will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, on a date yet to be determined.
For family and funeral information, contact the Navy Personnel Command’s Public Affairs Office at 901-874-4528.
DPAA is grateful to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of the Navy for their partnership in this mission.