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Pearl Harbor Victims to Be Exhumed Under Plan to Identify Them

Almost 400 unknown sailors and Marines killed in the 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor are to be exhumed in an attempt to identify their remains.
/ Source: Associated Press

Advances in forensic science and technology as well as genealogical help from family members have made it possible to identify more remains of U.S. sailors and Marines killed at Pearl Harbor, officials said.

Among the relatives affected is Tom Gray, whose family has waited for more than 70 years to bring home the remains of his cousin.

Gray's cousin, Edwin Hopkins, of Swanzey, New Hampshire, was a 19-year-old fireman third class on board the USS Oklahoma when the battleship was hit by torpedoes and capsized on Dec. 7, 1941. His remains weren't identified and his family was told he was missing.

Gray said Hopkins' mother never accepted that. She believed he had amnesia and he would show up one day, Gray said.

Hopkins' parents, Frank and Alice Hopkins, put his name on their headstone in Keene, New Hampshire, thinking he would join them one day, Gray said. They did so, "just waiting for him to come home," Gray said.

Altogether, 429 sailors and Marines on board the Oklahoma were killed. Only 35 were identified in the years immediately after.

Hundreds were buried as unknowns at cemeteries in Hawaii. In 1950, they were reburied as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific inside a volcanic crater in Honolulu known as Punchbowl.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced new criteria for exhuming these and other remains from military cemeteries for identification.

In the case of comingled remains, the military must estimate it will be able to identify at least 60 percent of the people exhumed. For individual unknowns, there must be at least a 50 percent chance it will be able to identify the person disinterred.

Officials plan to begin the work in three to six weeks, said Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency spokeswoman. They aim to identify the remains of up to 388 servicemen within five years.

The unidentified remains of sailors and Marines from other Pearl Harbor battleships, like the USS West Virginia, are also buried at Punchbowl.

Gray said he understands it's an honor to be buried at a national cemetery.

"I also think that a boy gives up his life at 19 years old and ends up in a comingled grave marked as 'unknown' isn't proper. I never did," Gray said.

- The Associated Press