June Shoen was a small girl when she saw her father collapse to the floor after getting the phone call telling him that her older brother was “missing in action, presumably dead” after the USS Oklahoma was torpedoed and sunk in the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
For much of the next 75 years, she and her family waited for yet another call confirming his death and the return of his remains.
Last week, after years of hoping, Shoen, who is now 80 and lives in Angle Inlet, Minn., and her brother Harold Gifford, 93, of Woodbury, finally got the news from the military that their brother’s remains had been positively identified and would be returned to Minnesota.
The call came after Shoen, Harold Gifford and their brother Earl took DNA tests last year in hopes of finally bringing closure to Quentin’s death. Earl has since died.
Radioman Second Class Quentin Gifford of Mankato was 22 at the time of the Dec. 7 attack; Fireman Third Class Kenneth Holm, of Clarkfield, was 29. Both died on the USS Oklahoma. They are two of six military members with ties to Minnesota whose remains have been identified in recent months.
Jed Henry is the director and president of the PFC Lawrence Gordon Foundation, a nonprofit that assists people with locating and identifying service members who went missing in armed conflicts. He said a government mandate that began several years ago established a goal of identifying 200 remains per year.
He said that to reach that goal, investigators went all the way back to World War II, using DNA and other methods to process cases.
While more remains have been identified in recent years, Henry said he’s concerned that the process is moving too fast and isn’t thorough enough. He said in some cases, families only receive small pieces of bones, rather than significant portions of their relative’s remains.
Harold Gifford said the last time he saw his brother alive was when Quentin was home on furlough. He said Quentin advised him to stay in school despite the financial pressures on the family.
Following his brother’s advice, Harold Gifford later qualified as a cadet in the Army Air Corps and went on to a successful career as a pilot, once conducting an emergency landing for a flight carrying the NBA Minneapolis Lakers during a blizzard in 1960.
“Had I not taken his advice, I probably would have been drafted, and I could very well have been under a white cross somewhere a very long time ago,” Harold Gifford said. “His advice changed my life.”
Shoen said she’s happy to be able to have a final service for her brother after all this time. She said Gifford will be buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, and that details for a military service will be determined in coming weeks.
“It’s wonderful that we can put him to rest,” Shoen said. “He deserves that.”