SENATORS ASK PENTAGON TO HELP IDENTIFY, BRING HOME REMAINS OF SAILORS KILLED AT PEARL HARBOR FOR BURIAL

WASHINGTON—A bipartisan group of 15 United States Senators, led by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) are seeking the assistance of the Department of Defense in an effort to have the bodies of 21 men who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 exhumed so that they can either be brought home for burial in their community, or be buried in a marked grave in Hawaii.

All 21 men were killed, along with 408 other sailors, when the U.S.S. Oklahoma was torpedoed during the attack on Pearl Harbor,” the senators wrote. “In 1943, when the Oklahoma was salvaged and raised, the remains of the sailors classified as “unknown” were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. For nearly 70 years, the family members of these men never knew the final resting place of their loved ones. We respectfully ask that the Department of Defense grant the JPAC Central Identification Laboratory’s request to exhume the five “unknown” caskets and identify the remains. The brave men who died protecting our great nation at Pearl Harbor deserve a final resting place of their families’ choosing.”

Full text of the letter:

The Honorable Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1300

Dear Secretary Hagel:

We are writing on behalf of our constituents, the relatives of 21 men who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and all Americans. These families have sought our assistance in the effort to have the bodies of their loved ones exhumed so they can receive a proper burial in their community or be buried in a marked grave in Hawaii.

All 21 men were killed, along with 408 other sailors, when the U.S.S. Oklahoma was torpedoed during the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943, when the Oklahoma was salvaged and raised, the remains of the sailors classified as “unknown” were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. For nearly 70 years, the family members of these men never knew the final resting place of their loved ones. 

In 2003, using military records and personnel files, a historian for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association named Ray Emory ascertained the identities of 27 men killed on the Oklahoma previously listed as “unknown.” After Mr. Emory’s research was shared with the Department of Defense, scientists from the Central Identification Laboratory of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) exhumed the coffin from grave P-1002 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Between 2003 and 2008, with the help of Mr. Emory’s research and the families of the five men buried at P-1002, JPAC correctly identified all five men in the coffin (Lawrence A. Boxrucker, Eldon P. Wyman, Irvin A.R. Thompson, Charles H. Swanson, and Gerald G. Lehman), and their remains were returned to their respective families for burial.

Once Mr. Emory’s research was validated by the correct identification of the men buried in P-1002, he enlisted the help of Bob Valley from USS Oklahoma Family, Inc. to track down the next of kin for the remaining 22 men. Mr. Valley was able to find contact information for 21 of the 22 men and alerted them of Mr. Emory’s work. Since then, they have lobbied various government agencies for the return of their loved one.

According to Mr. Emory’s research, these 22 men are buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in five caskets in three graves: P-1001, P-1003, and P-0989.

It is our understanding that the JPAC Central Identification Laboratory has applied for permission to recover and identify the remains buried in the remaining “unknown” caskets.

We respectfully ask that the Department of Defense grant the JPAC Central Identification Laboratory’s request to exhume the five “unknown” caskets and identify the remains. The brave men who died protecting our great nation at Pearl Harbor deserve a final resting place of their families’ choosing. We request that their remains be released to their family so that they may be interred according to their wishes.

Please keep our offices updated about any developments in this matter. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

                       

CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY

United States Senator                                                

KELLY A. AYOTTE

United States Senator

JERRY MORAN

United States Senator

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

United States Senator

RON JOHNSON

United States Senator

MICHAEL F. BENNET

United States Senator

MARK UDALL

United States Senator

SAXBY CHAMBLISS

United States Senator

BENJAMIN L. CARDIN

United States Senator

ROB PORTMAN

United States Senator

CHARLES E. SCHUMER

United States Senator

MARK S. KIRK

United States Senator

LISA MURKOWSKI

United States Senator

THAD COCHRAN

United States Senator

JEANNE SHAHEEN

United States Senator

cc: The Honorable John McHugh, Secretary of the Army

 The Honorable Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy

The Honorable Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs