Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
For Albuquerque resident Racheli Bauer, today, 77 years after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is an especially poignant anniversary.
Her uncle, Navy radioman Petty Officer 3rd Class Dante Sylvester Tini, was one of 2,403 service members and civilians killed during the attack that led to the country’s entry into World War II.
But Tini’s remains were never identified.
Then, in August, Bauer got a call saying that the DNA she had provided three years earlier was a perfect match to bones exhumed from an area called the Punchbowl, where the remains of hundreds of unidentified USS Oklahoma casualties were interred.
Dante Tini had been found.
“They warned us,” Bauer said. ” ‘We don’t plan on finding anything. It’s been 77 years.’ When they called, they couldn’t believe it. They were just as excited as I was.”
Though it’s been more than three-quarters of a century, the loss is still painful for his family.
“I didn’t think I would be this emotional, because I never knew the man, but every time I talk about it, I start to cry,” said Racheli Bauer’s husband of 50 years, Don Bauer. “It’s an amazing thing.”
The USS Oklahoma was moored next to the USS Maryland on Battleship Row when its port side was struck by eight torpedoes that morning.
In just 12 minutes, the ship capsized, trapping hundreds of men underwater.
From December 1941 to June 1944, the Navy worked to recover remains of the 429 men killed aboard the Oklahoma, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. They were then buried in two Hawaiian cemeteries.
In 1947, the remains were disinterred and sent to a lab in an effort to identify the men.
Technology of the day resulted in just 35 men being identified at that time.
Those who were still unidentified were reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, in an old volcanic depression area known as the Punchbowl about seven miles southeast of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu.
In April 2015, the DPAA received permission to disinter the remains once again for analysis.
Of the 388 sets of remains recovered, 187 have been identified, DPAA spokesman Chuck Prichard said.
And work at the DPAA’s Omaha, Neb., lab continues.
“Families want answers,” Prichard said. “And that’s what we’re trying to provide.”
Tini was the son of Italian immigrants who settled in the mining community of Virginia, Minn.
He was a handsome young man who loved sports and playing the mother-of-pearl accordion his father had brought over from the old country, and had “lots of girlfriends,” Racheli Bauer said.
After graduating from high school in June 1940, he enlisted in the Navy in July, as soon as he turned 18.
When the telegram bearing the tragic news of his death arrived at the family’s doorstep, Tini’s mother, still learning to speak English, did not understand its contents.
“My grandma read the telegram and said, ‘Oh, look here, it says that your brother is a good boy and he’s having a good time in the Navy,’ ” Bauer said, then she threw it in the trash.
Bauer’s mother, Alda, then a young girl, plucked it from the garbage and translated it for her and Tini’s mother.
“That affected her the rest of her life,” Bauer said of her mother.
Bauer said Tini’s parents and siblings were always hopeful the remains of their son and brother would someday be identified and returned home.
In May, he’ll be buried in Minnesota in the same cemetery as his parents and his sister Alda.
Even after losing her young son in the war, Dante Tini’s mother, Racheli, remained a proud patriot, Bauer said.
“My mom later on offered to take my grandma back to Italy,” said Bauer. “She said, ‘Nobody made us come here. We are Americans now. That’s why I let my boy go and fight for America.’ ”