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History and Heritage

Identifying the Unknown

One Pearl Harbor survivor's mission

Decades after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as many Sailors and Marines laid in graves marked "unknown", one man made it his mission to identify them.

Seaman 1st Class Ray Emory was aboard the light cruiser USS Honolulu (CL 48) when the general quarters alarm sounded in the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Emory and his shipmates assumed it was a drill. He and others were unaware of the attack by Japanese forces which would result in the loss of over 2,000 military personnel, more than 25 percent of whom were unidentifiable.

Although Emory sees his career in the Navy as past history, there was an event that led him back to that dreadful day.

During a visit to the National Cemetery of the Pacific more than 25 years ago, Emory asked a simple question to a desk attendant, "Can you tell me where the Pearl Harbor casualties are buried in this cemetery?"

The answer he received was, in essence, no.
Three photo collage of a names of military KIA, Ray Emory holding photos, and remembrance of Pearl Harbor causalities.

Walking through the rows of grave markers, Emory realized how sad it was to him to see his fellow Sailors and Marines in their final resting place without anyone knowing exactly who they were. Thus, he decided to make it his mission to find out.

"I've spent the last 26 years working on that cemetery, getting grave markers updated and so forth," Emory said. "I computerized all World War II Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps casualties - 68,000, roughly."

By matching burial and dental records with DNA testing upon availability, Emory has spent years working with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii to help bring a sense of closure to the families of his shipmates.

At 95 years old, Emory has said he has no plans of quitting what has become his mission. He hopes to identify all U.S. military unknown casualties from World War II.