Remains of Rushford Sailor Killed in Pearl Harbor Coming Home

June 26, 2018 11:09 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- Decades after the attack on Pearl Harbor killed a local Navy sailor, his body is coming home.

Thanks to the efforts of a government agency and modern DNA technology, the Rushford man's remains are being sent to a family member who has been instrumental in the journey.


"There are very few pictures of him,” said Dennis Rislove. “After the depression, people didn't spend money on photographs."

Rislove is the oldest living direct relative of Joseph M. Johnson.  “I’m actually his nephew,” he said. “My mother was his youngest sister.”

Rislove has no memories of his Uncle Joe. “I am 74 but I never knew him, he died two and a half years before I was born,” he said.

However, Rislove does know Joe's story. He says Joseph Johnson moved to Rushford in 1935. At 22 years old, Joe enlisted in the Navy.

“His first station was on the battleship Oklahoma in Hawaii,” said Rislove.

Joe reported for duty aboard the USS Oklahoma the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. “The first Japanese attack was a torpedo attack and when the first torpedo hit the Oklahoma, it was probably in a place where Joe was on duty as a radioman, and he was probably killed very early in the battle,” said Rislove.

More than 2,400 Americans were killed in Pearl Harbor. 429 of those were on the USS Oklahoma.

“In the battle there was so much oil and fire,” said Rislove. “388 were not able to be identified and recovered.”

Joe’s family was notified he'd been killed in action and that his body would not be returned. It made the deep loss even more difficult. “My mother and sister were very close to Joe,” said Rislove.

Joe’s parents, two younger sisters and younger brother have all since passed.

“That's kind of the sad part,” said Rislove.

Because two years ago, Rislove was contacted by the "Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency". “It was a government agency set up with the single mission of trying to locate MIA's and identify them and bring them home,” he said.

Joe’s remains, along with nearly 400 others, were disinterred from the "National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific" in Honolulu.

“They cleaned all of the bones. They started identifying DNA of all the remains,” said Rislove.

The agency asked Rislove for a DNA sample. “They told me the DNA science is identifiable through the female branch and the fact that mother was his youngest sister - that's how my DNA became part of the process of identifying him.”

A match was found.

“76 years and 7 months later, after Pearl Harbor, he is actually coming home,” said Rislove.

The Navy will escort Joseph Johnson's hearse from Minneapolis to Rushford on Saturday, July 7.

A tribute will be held at the Rushford Lutheran Church at 1 p.m., followed by a service at the Rushford Lutheran Cemetery.

The community is invited to come and pay their respects.


Hannah Tiede

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