It’s easy to think of technology as cold and impersonal, but it can be capable of deeply moving feats such as bringing closure to a decades-old tragedy and reviving the memory of a lost loved one.
One recent example involves the use of advanced forensics to identify the remains of a World War II aviator from Bethel and return them to his living family members in Harpswell and elsewhere.
Stanley Willis Allen’s young life ended on Dec. 7, 1941, during Japan’s attack on the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Allen, an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve, was among 429 crew members who were killed when the Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, causing it to quickly capsize.
Allen was born in Bethel on July 17, 1916. At just 25 years old when he was killed, the young sailor and aviator already had accomplished a great deal for someone his age.
According to his family, Allen had pursued a career in the hospitality industry. He spent seven summers working at the Bethel Inn in Bethel, then took a job at Wentworth-by-the-Sea in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he remained until his appointment as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
After a year’s training as a “plebe,” Allen returned to civilian life and attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from 1934 to 1939, according to his obituary. While in college, he worked summers at Kimball House, a four-story hotel in Northeast Harbor that was known for its octagonal tower. After graduation, Allen was hired to manage the Bethel Restaurant in Bethel.
On Oct. 8, 1940, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve as a seaman second class in Boston, his obituary states. Allen continued his training at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base in Squantum, Massachusetts, and was appointed an aviation cadet on Jan. 15, 1941.
After becoming a naval aviator six months later, Allen was assigned to duty flying in Observation Squadron One on the USS Oklahoma, according to his obituary.
From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries in Hawaii. For a long time, that was where Allen’s story appeared to have ended.
But on Wednesday, May 24, the Navy announced that Allen’s remains had been identified using recent advances in forensic technology. Soon, those remains will be brought to Maine for burial, along with a public memorial service scheduled for mid-July.
The Navy explained in a news release that in September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
At that time, laboratory staff were only able to confirm the identities of 35 men, according to the release. The American Graves Registration Service then buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as “non-recoverable,” including Allen.
But in recent years, new forensic technologies have made it possible to identify those men, the Navy said.
In June 2015, staff of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began to exhume the USS Oklahoma unknowns from the Punchbowl for modern analysis. To identify Allen’s remains, scientists from the agency used dental and anthropological analysis, while those from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used Y chromosome DNA, or “Y-STR” analysis.
Y-STR analysis is a technique used in modern forensics to study the genetic information found on the Y chromosome. It is particularly useful in investigations involving the remains of males. The scientists were able to use this technique to positively identify Allen’s remains.
‘A sense of closure’
Allen’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with others who are missing from WWII, the Navy release states. Now, a rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
“They just came out with this over the last couple of years where they were able to identify them, because they had exhumed the bones and found that in one coffin, they thought there were just several people, and it turned out there were 100 people,” said Jennifer Gelwick-Luecke, of Harpswell, in a phone interview on Thursday, May 25. “Just recently, they’ve gotten the technology where they can actually figure out who these people are.”
Gelwick-Luecke is the daughter of Allen’s first cousin Beverly Prosser Gelwick, who is in her 90s and also lives in Harpswell. Gelwick-Luecke is too young to have ever met Allen — her mother was still a young girl when he was killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.
“She does remember that day,” Gelwick-Luecke said about her mother. “It was a church day, and all the bells were ringing.”
Although the family didn’t know that much about Allen prior to recent events, Gelwick-Luecke said she and her family members are relieved to know that his remains have been identified, and that he can now receive a proper burial. Those family members include Gelwick-Luecke’s brother, Allen Morrison Gelwick, and cousins Paul Prosser, Rhonda Prosser Copp, and June Prosser Toothaker.
“We’re glad he’s coming home finally and he’s not just up in a vault somewhere,” Gelwick-Luecke said. “I feel like there is a sense of closure — my mom was pretty upset, actually, when we went through the whole thing sitting in the funeral home (to make arrangements). And my cousins, they all want to be there (for the burial), and luckily, they can, because they live here.”
A burial with full military honors will be held at the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery, 163 Mount Vernon Road, Augusta, at 1 p.m., Tuesday, July 18. Gelwick-Luecke said members of the public are welcome to attend.
Have a comment or news tip? Please contact J. Craig Anderson via email.