Pearl Harbor survivor fights Army brass over graves for unknown soldiers
By BRUCE DUNFORD
Associated Press Writer
HONOLULU (AP) – Buried beneath the vast lawn at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific are the remains of 647 unidentified servicemen killed on Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Most are in combined graves, their bodies too damaged to identify. Those plots are unique among the 41,629 in Punchbowl Crater because their 1-by-2-foot granite markers read only: ”Unknown.”
The Army has some information – such as date of death and, in some cases, the serviceman’s ship – that would make the markers more specific, but it refuses to do so.
One survivor, though, will not surrender.
Raymond Emory, a Navy seaman first class aboard the cruiser USS Honolulu during the attack, has waged an eight-year battle to make the markers more specific.
”I don’t understand what’s so difficult about adding the information we know about some of these unknowns,” said Emory, a historian for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. ”At the least, we could put on the markers the name of their ship and the day they died.”
His opponents include Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told the 78-year-old retiree and his supporters that the Army, which inscribed the markers, has no intention of changing them.
Researching Army and Navy records, Emory determined that 381 of the Pearl Harbor unknowns were from the USS Oklahoma, 124 from the USS Arizona, 56 from harbor waters, 33 from the USS West Virginia, 22 from the USS California, 14 from the USS Utah, 14 from the adjacent Hickam Air Field, two from the USS Nevada and one from the USS Curtis.
A half-century ago, the crosses that marked the servicemen’s graves at temporary cemeteries contained the date of their deaths and the locations at which their remains were recovered, Emory said. The remains were moved to Punchbowl, overlooking downtown and the harbor, in 1949.
Emory believes the Army is trying to cover up bad record-keeping on the recovery and burials. ”They do not want to open World War II records because they are screwed up so bad,” he said.
Officials at the Army’s Mortuary Affairs and Casualty Support Division in Alexandria, Va., did not respond to several requests for interviews.
Congress passed a 1973 law transferring national cemeteries from the Army to the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the Joint Chiefs insisted in 1998 that the policy on ”Unknown” markers remains an Army matter, said Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii.
”This thing has been going in a merry-go-round. The last word we got from the Army last year was: ‘We’ve spent thousands of hours on this and this is the final no.’ The Army says they won’t allow it because it isn’t required,” she said. ”It may come to the point we’ll have to do it legislatively.”
Gene Castagnetti, who manages the cemetery, agreed with Army policy.
”In my humble opinion, once you start putting additional information on the marker of an unknown that does not lead any further in determining identity of those remains, it only begs the question of ‘Who was that guy?”’ he said.
”The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier doesn’t say whether he was from Texas or Alabama or wherever. The Tomb of the Unknown serves as a symbol for everyone’s unknown. That’s the way it is with these unknowns.”
Just last year, a Vietnam War serviceman buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia was identified using the latest forensic techniques. That tomb still contains unidentified remains from both world wars and the Korean War.
Castagnetti said if the Army gives in on the Punchbowl, it would open the way for efforts to add information to the thousands of ”Unknown” grave markers of American servicemen buried around the world.
The cost of additional inscriptions – about $40 per marker, or $10,000 for those Emory wants to change – is not a factor, Castagnetti said.
The inscriptions on the 90-pound markers for the identified dead include name, rank, branch of service, date of birth, date of death, the war and, if desired by the family, a short tribute.
Mink said even the most basic information would be a tribute to these Pearl Harbor unknowns: ”It’s such a small thing, but it’s not such a small matter. It’s a matter of dignity signifying the sacrifices made for this country.”