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Remains of Minnesota sailor who died on USS Oklahoma during Pearl Harbor attack ID'd using DNA

Laverne Nigg, "Budd" to his family and friends, will be buried next summer after eight decades of anonymity come to an end

120818.N.DNT.USSOklahoma10.jpg
The USS Oklahoma being righted in 1943. The battleship capsized after being hit by several torpedoes in the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In 2007, a memorial for the 429 Oklahoma crew members killed in the attack was dedicated on Ford Island, visible in the background. Contributed photo / National Park Service

BROWNS VALLEY, Minn. — On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Laverne A. Nigg, known to his friends and family as "Budd," was 23 years old and a crewman aboard the USS Oklahoma when Japanese airplanes attacked the battleship moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.

Struck by several torpedoes, the Oklahoma soon capsized, with 429 lives lost, including Nigg, who was one of 12 children in a family that farmed near Browns Valley.

While his remains were eventually recovered from the Oklahoma, they could not be identified at the time and were buried as unknown remains at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, not far from Pearl Harbor.

Several years ago, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency was given permission to exhume unknown remains connected to the Oklahoma for re-examination using advanced forensic technology.

When it came to Nigg's case, those efforts concluded earlier this year when the DPAA laboratory conclusively identified his remains using DNA obtained from a relative. Nigg's family was notified that the Navy Seaman 2nd Class was indeed killed on the Oklahoma during the bombing of Pearl Harbor 80 years ago.

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Plans call for his remains to be buried at a family plot in Browns Valley next summer, according to Dan Nigg, whose grandfather, Merville, was one of Budd's 11 siblings.

Laverne "Budd" Nigg
Laverne "Budd" Nigg. Image courtesy U.S. Defense Department.

At the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, Budd Nigg served on the Oklahoma with three cousins, all of whom survived the attack, according to Dan Nigg. Later in life, one of those cousins told someone that when the Japanese were attacking he ran past Budd, who was on an anti-aircraft gun shooting at planes.

Moments later, when the cousin turned back, he saw Budd lying dead, Dan Nigg said.

"I would imagine when the torpedo hit, he (Budd) probably either got thrown into the water or burned. And that's probably why they couldn't identify him," Dan Nigg said.

He said the effort to identify his great-uncle using family DNA began around the early 2000s with samples obtained from brothers and sisters.

However, nothing could be pinned down, he said, until early this year when investigators contacted the family again, this time looking for DNA from any of Budd's surviving nieces.

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DNA obtained from his oldest surviving niece was used to conclusively identify Budd's remains, according to Dan Nigg.

He said the confirmation will allow him to keep a vow he made to Budd's last remaining brother, Gerald, before he died.

Dan Nigg recalled the conversation with his great uncle Gerald this way:

"As he got older and was getting ill, he told me, 'They're going to be calling someday when they find him. Make sure you get everything taken care of, because he has a gravesite at Browns Valley."

Related Topics: HISTORYMINNESOTA
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