Louis Tushla died in the first minutes of the Dec. 7, 1941, raid that brought the U.S. into World War II. But his remains were never identified.
He began his journey home to Atkinson, Nebraska, on Thursday from a building at Offutt Air Force Base that had a lot to do with ending that war.
Tushla, a 25-year-old Navy fireman 1st class, was assigned to the engine room of the battleship USS Oklahoma when it was attacked and sunk at Pearl Harbor. The bodies of most of the 429 service members who died weren’t recovered until the ship was refloated in 1943. Almost 400 of them could not be identified despite efforts soon after the war ended. They were buried in Hawaii as “unknowns.”
In 2015, the remains were disinterred and brought to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s lab at Offutt for identification using modern DNA technology. The lab is housed in a massive building where B-29 aircraft were built during World War II — including the two planes used to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which precipitated the end of the war.
Tushla was identified in March 2020 through a DNA match with a nephew, Dennis Tushla.
On Thursday, a flag-draped casket carrying his remains was transferred to the back of an SUV in that building for a caravan to Atkinson, escorted by American Legion veterans on motorcycle.
Dozens of Tushla family members are expected at a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by burial at St. Joseph’s Cemetery. Monsignor James Gilg of Omaha, a cousin of Tushla’s, will conduct the service.
“It is an honored and privileged thing for us to do,” Gilg said.
Tushla will be buried next to his parents, Peter and Susanna Tushla. Nearby is a marker for his brother, 1st Lt. Harold Tushla, a B-24D navigator with the 93rd Bombardment Group who was killed Feb. 16, 1943, with his entire crew of 10 when his aircraft disappeared on a bombing run near Naples, Italy.
His body was never recovered.