The remains of 27 sailors killed at Pearl Harbor were identified through dental records in 1949, but instead of being returned to their families, the remains were placed in five caskets and buried as unknown soldiers at the Hawaiian cemetery known as "Punchbowl." "They didn't have all the pieces of every person," and the military didn't want to turn over partial remains, says Lisa Ridge, whose grandfather's remains are one of the sailors. Adds Tom Gray, who is seeking his cousin's remains, "They never told the families that these people had been identified." A 92-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor learned about the graves and told the families, the Los Angeles Times reports. He managed to get one casket exhumed in 2003; now 21 families are fighting for the four remaining caskets to be dug up.
"[He] deserves better than a commingled grave marked 'unknown' 4,000 miles away from his family," says Gray of his cousin. The families want the military to exhume the remains, use DNA testing to identify them, and allow their families to bury them as they wish. The Navy has argued that the sailors should be allowed to "rest in dignity." But KITV reports the families have a bipartisan group of 15 US senators on their side, who on Feb. 15 delivered a letter to Chuck Hagel urging him to order the exhumations. (Read more Pearl Harbor stories.)