Natale Ignatius Torti, a 19-year-old, second-generation American, never got the chance to raise a family of his own. He died in service to the country his grandparents immigrated to in the early 20th century.
Ironically, it was family members he never knew — and who never knew him — who were able to provide the Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) what it needed to give Mr. Torti the honored rest he deserved.
The Navy Seaman 1st Class was among the 429 crewmen of the U.S.S. Oklahoma and the 2,335 men of the U.S. Pacific Fleet killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that brought the United States into World War II.
On Oct. 12, Mr. Torti’s remains were buried with full military honors at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in the presence of fellow veterans and his distant relatives. The Patriot Guard Riders, a national group of motorcyclists comprised mostly of veterans, met with the family and provided an escort from Lambert Field through Kutis Funeral Home and ultimately Jefferson Barracks that day.
The DPAA account of Mr. Torti’s service and death states in part:
“On Dec. 7, 1941, Torti was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize.
“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. In September 1947, members of he American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains ... and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks.”
The staff was only able to confirm the identities of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma at that time. The unidentified remains were buried 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 identifed as non-recoverable, including Torti,” the DPAA account continues. “In April 2015, the deputy secretary of defense issues a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of unknowns associated with the USS Oklahoma. On June 15, 2015, DPPA personnel began exhuming the remains from the Punchbowl.”
Around that time, James Torti, a certified public accountant and a native of Rock Hill, got a phone call from a DPPA genealogist.
“She asked me if I was related to Natale, and I said, ‘Yes. I never met him, but he was my uncle. That’s when things got started,” James Torti said.
The department also identified and contacted James’ brother, Joseph Torti Jr., and his two cousins, Richard and John Slawson, who live in California.
“They wanted DNA from the maternal side and the paternal side. We all gave them cheek swabbings. Then about six months ago, they got back to us, saying they’ve positively identified Natale’s remains,” James Torti said.
The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and the DPAA used mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA analysis in combination with dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence, to identify Torti’s remains as well as those of others who died in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack.
Joseph Torti admits he still has some bitterness over the death of the uncle he never knew, as well as the manner in which the two nations have handled the ramifications of the Pearl Harbor attack.
“My uncle and those other men died in an unprovoked, sneak attack on our country by the nation of Japan. No war had been declared at the time. To this day, to my knowledge, Japan has never apologized to the United States for the attack on Pearl Harbor,” Joseph Torti said. “But (the U.S. has) paid reparations to Japanese people who were held in relocation camps while we tried to figure out what was going on, and we have apologized for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That seems totally unfair to me.”
Natale Torti’s Oct. 11-12 homecoming touched the nephews and their families.
“It was a somber event, but there was still happiness over his remains being identified and returned home. The service was tremendously touching. I hope they can do for a lot more families what they did for us and identify more of those seamen,” James Torti said.
“It was an honor. Some tears were shed, including mine,” Joseph Torti said.