Mount Clemens resident Nancy Dedenbach never met her uncle Edwin McCabe, pictured in Navy uniform. Her mother, Dorothy McCabe DuBay, had only vague memories of her older brother. McCabe was 27 when he was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor in 1941. His remains were recently identified using his sister’s DNA.

Mount Clemens resident Nancy Dedenbach never met her uncle Edwin McCabe, pictured in Navy uniform. Her mother, Dorothy McCabe DuBay, had only vague memories of her older brother. McCabe was 27 when he was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor in 1941. His remains were recently identified using his sister’s DNA.

Photo by Julie Snyder


Remains of local woman’s uncle identified using DNA

Edwin McCabe was killed aboard the USS Oklahoma in 1941

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published May 23, 2019

 Edwin McCabe enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1934.

Edwin McCabe enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1934.

Photo provided by Nancy Dedenbach

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MOUNT CLEMENS — On Dec. 7, 1941, Navy Water Tender 1st Class Edwin Bonner McCabe, 27, was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when it and other ships came under attack by Japanese aircraft.

The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize and resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including McCabe, who is often referred to by his family as Bonner.

While McCabe’s remains were recovered from the ship following the incident, they could not be identified at the time. 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, according to military reports.

Mount Clemens resident Nancy Dedenbach said she never met her maternal uncle, and her mother, Dorothy McCabe DuBay, had only vague memories of her brother while growing up in North Carolina.

“In (the) early 1900s, my grandmother lost three children to diphtheria before the age of 4,” Dedenbach said. Dorothy McCabe was born in 1924 and was the youngest sibling. “So my mom only knew of him for 10 years before he ran away and joined the service in 1934. I cannot remember her ever saying much of anything about Bonner.”

A native of Newport, North Carolina, Edwin McCabe enlisted in the U.S. Navy on Oct. 16, 1934, in Raleigh, and reported for duty aboard the USS Oklahoma on March 28, 1935. As part of the effort to check Japanese aggression, the U.S. Pacific Fleet conducted exercises in the waters off Hawaii beginning in May 1940. After the maneuvers, the fleet remained in Pearl Harbor. The USS Oklahoma arrived in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1940, one year and one day prior to the attack.

McCabe was first listed among the missing; however, his status was subsequently amended to reflect that he died as a result of the attack.

Dedenbach, who was born and raised in Mount Clemens and is the founder and president of the Daughters of Macomb, recalls spending her summers in Beaufort, North Carolina, to visit her grandmother and her extended family.

“My mom said her mother was devastated (by Edwin McCabe’s death),” Dedenbach said. “She never gave up hope that, being the rascal he was, perhaps he was off that day and not onboard (the) ship.

“Mom said the reason he left home is because he hated farming. My grandfather was a tobacco farmer, judge, county commissioner, president of the school board. Not all at the same time, except for a farmer.”

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. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identification 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, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as nonrecoverable, including McCabe.

Advances in forensic technology in 2015 prompted the reexamination of the unknown remains associated with the USS Oklahoma. In April 2015, the deputy secretary of defense issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma. On June 15, 2015, officials with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA, began exhuming the remains from the Punchbowl for analysis, according to Army Sgt. 1st Class Kristen Duus, with the DPAA public affairs office.

Dorothy McCabe DuBay offered a DNA sample in late 2015, which helped positively identify Edwin McCabe’s remains, a femur bone from the right leg, on Nov. 26, 2018. Unfortunately, she died on Nov. 19, 2015, and never learned of the discovery. She was 91.

“We use a number of methods besides just DNA,” Duus said. “Since 1973, 2,833 servicemen and civilians have been identified, but not all have been through DNA.”

She said the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s use of dental records is a common method if a skull has been found, as is anthropological evidence using age and height information along with a last known location. Chest X-rays can be used, but it’s a far less common method since most individuals alive during the time would only have such a record if there had been a check for tuberculosis. Circumstantial and material evidence are also used as well as included personal identification of any kind, including a photo or tags.

“The use of DNA (for identification purposes) has really picked up in the past 15-20 years,” Duus said. She said that to identify McCabe’s remains, DPAA scientists used anthropological analysis while scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA analysis.

Duus said there are 82,105 servicemen still unaccounted for from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War. Of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, more than 400,000 died, and currently there are 72,737 (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly recoverable) still unaccounted for from WWII.

McCabe’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 that he has been accounted for.

“The only remains we will (be) burying in a full casket will be a leg bone,” Dedenbach said. “A whole uniform will be made, 1940 style, and the bone will be in the pant leg.”

Dorothy’s eldest daughter, Carol DuBay Parent, and Dedenbach will both be flown to Hawaii for a funeral and burial in September.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving their country, visit dpaa.mil, connect with the department on Facebook, or call (703) 699-1420, ext. 1169.

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