HONOLULU (AP) – 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.
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, 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.”
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 after its resemblance to the serving dish.
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 ahold of the Navy’s burial records from archives in Washington and determined which ships the dead in each grave were from.
He wrote the government asking why the markers didn’t note ship names and asked them to change it.
“They politely told me to go you-know-where,” Emory told The Associated Press in an interview at 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.
Emory appealed to the late Patsy Mink, a Hawaii congresswoman who inserted a provision in an appropriations bill requiring Veterans Affairs to include “USS Arizona” on gravestones of unknowns from that battleship.
Today, unknowns from other vessels like the USS Oklahoma and USS West Virginia, also have new markers.
Some of the dead, like those turned to ash, will likely never be identified. But Emory knew some could be.
The Navy’s 1941 burial records noted one body, burned and floating in the harbor, was found wearing shorts with the name “Livingston.” Only two men named Livingston were assigned to Pearl Harbor at the time, and one of the two was accounted for. Emory suspected the body was the other Livingston.
Government forensic scientists exhumed him. Dental records, a skeletal analysis and circumstantial evidence confirmed Emory’s suspicions. The remains belonged to Alfred Livingston, a 23-year-old fireman first class assigned to the USS Oklahoma.
Livingston’s nephew, Ken Livingston, said his uncle and his father were raised together by their grandmother and attended the same one-room schoolhouse. They grew up working on farms in and around Worthington, Ind. Livingston remembers his dad saying the brothers took turns wearing a pair of shoes they shared.
When the family learned Alfred was found, they brought him home from Hawaii to be buried in the same cemetery where his grandmother and mother rest.
About a third of the town showed up for his 2007 memorial service in Worthington, a town of just 1,400 about 80 miles southwest of Indianapolis. The local American Legion put up a sign welcoming home “Worthington’s missing son.”
“It brought a lot of closure,” said Ken Livingston, 62, his voice cracking.
John Lewis, a retired Navy captain who worked with Emory while assigned to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command between 2001 and 2004, said the command is fortunate someone like Emory has the time and initiative to painstakingly connect the dots on the unknowns.
“Without Ray Emory I don’t know if this ever would have been done,” Lewis said from Flowood, Miss.
Emory says people sometimes ask him why he’s spending so much time on events from 70 years ago. He tells them to talk to the relatives to see if they want the unknowns identified.
He doesn’t get emotional about the work, except when the government doesn’t exhume people he thinks should be dug up and identified.
“I get more emotional when they don’t do something,” he said.
He’ll keep working after he’s formally recognized during the Pearl Harbor ceremony on Friday to remember and honor the dead. He has names of 100 more men buried at Punchbowl he believes are identifiable.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- The best places to celebrate Fall in Phoenix
- Infamous athletes who did the most time for their crimes
- 2016 baseball highlights, bloopers and blunders
- See how CFOs really feel about business in the Valley
- The best television shows on the internet
- A preseason guide to avoid holiday weight gain
- The 5 worst things you could do for your roof
- 6 coolest things brewing in Arizona
- The virus that keeps head and neck cancers on the rise
- State Fair ‘Kid Reporter’ has all the angles covered
- 4 important things to know about timeshare maintenance fees
- Signs of delayed car crash injuries
- The truth about sports concussions
- The Alzheimer's epidemic: Facts you need to know
- The season is here, keep your Fantasy Football team strong all season
- 8 TV shows you can't miss this fall
- Football is here: 6 tips to make this your best season ever
- Gameday recipes and beers to match
- 6 reasons the Cardinals are driven to win the Super Bowl
- The Pac-12 football season nears kickoff
- Tips to get ready for a pain-free golf season
- Protect your family with these 7 home security features
- How to train like an Olympic swimmer
- 2016 Olympics: A guide to must-see TV events
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier