PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Hundreds of sailors lined ship decks and piers on Tuesday as a Pearl Harbor attack survivor who doggedly pushed the federal bureaucracy to identify the remains of fellow servicemen killed in the bombing visited the storied naval base to say what could be his final goodbyes.
More than 500 sailors manned the rails and formed an honor cordon to greet Ray Emory as he arrived in a golf cart. The sailors cheered him with shouts of “Hip, Hip, Hooray!” Emory saluted them.
Emory wanted to visit the pier — where his ship, the USS Honolulu, was moored on Dec. 7, 1941 — before leaving his Hawaii home to move to Boise, Idaho. The 97-year-old’s wife died about a month ago and he plans to live with his son. This may be his last visit to Pearl Harbor.
“I’m glad I came and I’ll never forget it,” Emory told reporters after a ceremony in his honor. He said he plans to go fishing in Idaho.
Nearly eight decades ago, Emory saw a Japanese plane drop a torpedo into the water and watched as the torpedo slammed into a battleship. Emory managed to fire a few rounds with one of his ship’s guns. He still has an empty charge that fell to his ship deck.
Emory is best known for his relentless efforts to get the military and Department of Veterans Affairs to dig up and identify the remains of hundreds of Pearl Harbor sailors and Marines who were buried as unknowns after the war.
Bureaucrats didn’t welcome his efforts, at least not initially. Emory says they politely told him to “‘go you-know-where.’” That didn’t deter him.
First, thanks to legislation sponsored by the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii, he managed to get gravestones for unknowns from the USS Arizona marked with name of their battleship.
In 2003, the military agreed to dig up a casket that Emory was convinced, after meticulously studying records, included the remains of multiple USS Oklahoma servicemen. Emory was right, and five sailors were identified.
It helped lay the foundation for the Pentagon’s decision more than a decade later to exhume and attempt to identify all 388 sailors and Marines from the Oklahoma still buried in a national cemetery in Honolulu.
Since those 2015 exhumations, 138 Oklahoma unknowns have been identified. About 77 have been reburied, many in their hometowns, bringing closure to families across the country.
“Ray, you’re the man that did it. There’s nobody else. If it wasn’t for you, it would have never been done,” Jim Taylor, the Navy’s liaison to Pearl Harbor survivors, told Emory during a brief ceremony at the USS Honolulu’s old pier.
Taylor presented Emory with a black, folded POW/MIA flag printed with the words: “You are not forgotten.”