Tom Gray's family has waited for more than 70 years to bring home the remains of his cousin who was killed in the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Yesterday, they got a step closer when the military announced it will exhume and attempt to identify the remains of almost 400 sailors and Marines from the USS Oklahoma who were buried as unknowns after the war. The military is acting now because advances in forensic science and technology, as well as genealogical help from family members, have made it possible to identify more remains, a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency spokeswoman says. Killed in the attack were 429 sailors and Marines on board the Oklahoma, and 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. Gray's cousin, Edwin Hopkins, was a 19-year-old fireman third class on board the Oklahoma when the battleship was hit by nine torpedoes and capsized. His remains weren't identified and his family was told he was missing. Gray says Hopkins' mother never accepted his death, believing he had amnesia. He says his cousin's parents put his name on their headstone in Keene, NH, thinking he would join them one day. Gray says he knows it's an honor to be buried in a national cemetery, but he has always thought it "isn't proper" when "a boy gives up his life at 19 years old and ends up in a comingled grave marked as 'unknown.'" (Read more Pearl Harbor stories.)