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December 7, 2012

Survivor helps ID unknown dead

Some former unknowns from USS Oklahoma have new markers

HONOLULU —  Ray Emory could not accept that more than one quarter of the 2,400 Americans who died at Pearl Harbor were buried, unidentified, in a volcanic crater.

And so he set out to restore names to the dead.

Emory, a survivor of the attack, doggedly scoured decades-old documents to piece together who was who. He pushed, and sometimes badgered, the government into relabeling more than 300 gravestones with the ship names of the deceased. And he lobbied for forensic scientists to exhume the skeletons of those who might be identified.

Today, the 71-year anniversary of the Japanese attack, the Navy and National Park Service will honor the 91-year-old former sailor for his determination to have Pearl Harbor remembered, and remembered accurately.

“Some of the time, we suffered criticism from Ray and sometimes it was personally directed at me. And I think it was all for the better,” National Park Service historian Daniel Martinez said. “It made us rethink things. It wasn’t viewed by me as personal but a reminder of how you need to sharpen your pencil when you recall these events and the people and what’s important.”

Emory first learned of the unknown graves more than 20 years ago when he visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific shortly before the 50th anniversary of the attack. The grounds foreman told him the Pearl Harbor dead were scattered around the veterans’ graveyard in a volcanic crater called Punchbowl after its resemblance to the serving dish.

Emory got a clipboard and walked along row after row of flat granite markers, making notes of any listing death around Dec. 7, 1941. He got ahold of the Navy’s burial records from archives in Washington and determined which ships the dead in each grave were from.

He wrote the government asking why the markers didn’t note ship names and asked them to change it.

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