An urgent plea for donations came from the USS Oklahoma Remains Preservation Project on July 21.
“We need your help!!!”
the nonprofit said on its Facebook page. “Help bring closure to a WW2 USS Oklahoma family. Our mission
relies on your support.”
Simply click on the Amazon Smile link, “and every purchase you make on Amazon will help bring closure to the families and loved ones of WW2 servicemen killed aboard the USS Oklahoma.”
On its website, the USS Oklahoma Remains Preservation Project explained a bit more under “Our story.”
“For 8 years, we have been a part of the Department of Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) project to exhume and identify unknowns from the USS Oklahoma.”
Misspelling of “defense” aside, the information is full of erroneous statements,
according to the actual Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which has a big lab and offices at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“Neither the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, nor its predecessor organization, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, have ever had any kind
of formal or informal working relationship with this group,” Lt. Col. Ken.
Hoffman, a spokesman for the organization, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser
in an email.
The Ohio charity’s efforts have been cited in multiple news stories around the country.
The Defense Department’s accounting agency said it does not plan to file a complaint with the Ohio
Attorney General’s office. The Ohio office won’t investigate without one.
But the accounting agency did send a letter to the group. The nonprofit’s founder, 82-year-old Harold Ryther, said he recently made changes to the website. He said he intended to modify the Facebook page as well.
“I’m changing it because they asked me to,” Ryther said in a phone interview. Meanwhile, the Ohio man both defends the fundraising effort and admits it was misleading.
“Right now, I look back at it, and I can agree with you that it was (misleading),” he said. “But it wasn’t the way we interpreted it.”
Moored outboard of the USS Maryland on Dec. 7, 1941, the Oklahoma was hit by at least nine Japanese Type 91 aerial torpedoes. The massive jolts tore open its port side, causing the battleship to roll over and jam in the mud of Pearl Harbor.
A total of 429 crew were killed. Because of the horrific damage, many of the men were buried as “unknowns” at Punchbowl cemetery.
With advances in science, and particularly DNA, the Pentagon in 2015 announced that it would disinter all
388 remaining “unknown” Oklahoma crew members for identification. About 40 identifications from the ship had been made previously.
The accounting agency
recently said more than
220 of the 388 unaccounted-
for crew members have been identified.
On its Facebook page, the USS Oklahoma Remains Preservation Project said its mission is “to identify the MIAs of Pearl Harbor and have them properly laid to rest.”
If it is not able to convince the Navy to complete the project, “our goal would
be to have them turn the project over to the private sector — to our organization for completion,” the group said.
Its founders are listed as Ryther and his wife Mary Ann, who has an uncle missing from the USS Oklahoma, Stanislaw Drwall. Harold
Ryther said he is a retired certified property manager and his wife, 81, is a retired savings and loan officer.
Asked if the group has any expertise in remains recovery and identification, Harold Ryther said, “No, none. We are strictly trying to make people aware that this (issue) is existing, that the Oklahoma is making history today, and to help us keep pressure on the government to keep it going.”
Ryther said he and his wife started attending accounting agency family update meetings in 2013 and they talked with officials about recovery efforts.
The accounting agency in its letter credited the couple for being “strong advocates some years ago for the Department of Defense to disinter all the USS Oklahoma unknowns.”
Ryther was asked about the statement that for eight years, the USS Oklahoma Remains Preservation Project had been part of the accounting agency effort to exhume and identify unknowns from the battleship.
“And I can say for eight years we have been part of that,” Ryther said. “We have been — we are a family. We are an MIA family and we’ve been a part of their meetings and pushing them at these meetings. So in a sense, that is a correct statement.”
The Facebook page said the organization is “raising money to support the Navy’s project to identify the remains of unidentified sailors from the USS Oklahoma.”
Asked what support is provided, Ryther said, “We’re just encouraging them to finish it. To get it done.” He also said “our
primary goal is to raise awareness.”
Ryther said he speaks
to groups about the USS Oklahoma recovery effort and attends events. The nonprofit created over 10,000 informational flyers, he added.
Ryther said the USS Oklahoma Remains Preservation Project exhibit pulled in $505 at the Canfield (Ohio) Fair Aug. 28 to Sept. 2.
The group’s Internal Revenue Service 2017 Form 990 filing indicates it received $2,048 in 2015, $4,234 in 2016 and $6,349 in 2017.
A collection jar atop the group’s table at the Wings-n-Wheels car show and fly-in last month in Ohio had a message reading: “Your donation will help bring closure to a family of an MIA from the USS Oklahoma.”