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.
Mr. 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.
On Friday, the 71-year anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base, 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,” said National Park Service historian Daniel Martinez. “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.”
Mr. 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 for its resemblance to the serving dish.
Mr. 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 the Navy’s burial records from archives in Washington and determined which ships the dead in each grave were from.
He wrote to government officials asking why the markers didn’t note ship names and asking them to change it.
“They politely told me to go you-know-where,” Mr. Emory said in his Honolulu home, where he keeps a “war room” packed with documents, charts and maps. Military and veterans policy called for changing grave markers only if remains are identified, an inscription is mistaken or a marker is damaged.
Mr. Emory appealed to Rep. Patsy Mink, Hawaii Democrat, who inserted a provision in an appropriations bill in 2000 requiring Veterans Affairs to include “USS Arizona” on gravestones of unknowns from that battleship.
Today, unknowns from the USS Oklahoma, USS West Virginia and other vessels also have new markers.
Some of the dead, like those turned to ash, likely will never be identified. But Mr. Emory knew some could be.
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