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Remains of Minnesota sailor, killed at Pearl Harbor, to be laid to rest

Harold Gifford and June Schoen reflect on their brother, Quinten, whose remains were recently identified. Quinten Gifford died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Youssef Rddad / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
A photo of brothers Quinten, Earl and Harold Gifford was taken while Quienten Gifford returned to Mankato on a military furlough. Youssef Rddad / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

The remains of a Minnesota sailor are being returned home 76 years after he was killed in action during World War II.

U.S. Navy 2nd Class Radioman Quinten Gifford was among the 429 crewmen who died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. For years, the Navy listed the Mankato sailor as Lost in Action, but the recent identification of his remains has brought his family a sense of closure.

"We always had hope that someday we'd see him come to the door and that there might have been a mistake," said June Shoen, Quinten Gifford's sister.

Navy 2nd Class Radioman Quinten Gifford. Courtesy of Gifford familyWhen Schoen, 81, received notification this summer that her brother Quinten's remains had been identified, she cried.

"It brings it all back up again," she said. "But it gives you some peace."

Harold Gifford, a 94-year-old retiree living in Woodbury, said he recalls the phone call that came on a snowy Sunday afternoon informing his family that his oldest brother was missing.

He remembers carrying his father to the couch when his knees buckled and the disbelief his family felt.

Of the more than 400,000 Americans who died during World War II, roughly 73,000 are unaccounted for, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Advances in forensic testing and a Department of Defense direction ordering the disinterment of unknown remains has led to the identification of more than 100 sailors who died aboard the USS Oklahoma.

The unidentified remains of Americans have laid in a national cemetery in Hawaii informally known as "the Punchbowl."

After receiving confirmation of Quinten's remains, his surviving family received a spiral bound book detailing forensic records.

To some relief, Harold Gifford said the reports indicate his brother may have died instantly — a kinder fate compared to sailors who died after becoming trapped beneath the battleship when it capsized.

The details of his brother were still sinking in, Harold Gifford said last week.

"There's hardly a day that's gone by when we haven't wondered what it'd be like if he were living today," he said, mentally calculating Quinten would be 99-years-old next year.

Harold Gifford said he remembers how his brother looked out for his younger siblings, warding off country bullies.

Schoen was a young child before her brothers shipped off to war. Still, she remembers Quinten would sing to her while playing his guitar.

Despite not knowing her oldest brother well, she passed down stories to her children about him. Many followed in his footsteps by enlisting in the Navy, she said.

June Schoen holds a photograph of her family taken in Mankato. Youssef Rddad / RiverTown Multimedia"He was the family hero," Schoen's daughter, Dawn, said.

Harold Gifford can pinpoint his life's success to a single moment of brotherly encouragement.

At 16, he had dropped out of high school to work on a dairy farm near his home in Mankato. College graduates were finding work in menial jobs like grocery baggers or gas station attendants, he said.

But before his oldest brother shipped out for the war, he struck a deal with him to finish school.

"He promised that when he got out of the Navy — which wouldn't be too far away — that we'd find a way to go to college," Gifford said.

He kept his end of the deal and went back to school, but his brother never returned.

Harold Gifford joined the Army Air Corps after finishing high school and served during the war. Since then, he's had a long career in aviation.

"Everything good that ever happened in my life was of direct result of taking his advice," Harold Gifford said of his brother. "Had I not, I would have been either drafted ... and I may not even be here."

Quinten Gifford will be given full military honors next April when his remains are laid to rest at Fort Snelling.

A tentative date for the service is set next spring, Harold Gifford said.