Pearl Harbor survivor, 91, helps identify unknown dead

Pearl Harbor Anniversary

Ray Emory and Bob Kinzler of the Pearl Harbors Survivors Association lay a wreath Dec. 7, 2003 in remembrance of the lives lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The ceremony was held at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Punchbowl. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jason Lee Jacobowitz. (December 7, 2012)

Indianapolis

Warren P. Hickok broke his right leg as a boy. Payton L. Vanderpool Jr. had a missing front tooth.

Those physical characteristics eventually aided the identification of the men, decades after they were killed on December 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Using detective-like skills and personnel records, Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Emory, 91, has made it his mission to ensure graves are properly identified at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which fills the Punchbowl crater in Honolulu.

So far, he has aided in the identification of nine service members who died that fateful Sunday morning.

"I sleep at night," Emory said. "It's very satisfying."

On Friday morning, the former sailor's efforts will be recognized during a ceremony marking the 71st anniversary of the attack.

"He is bringing closure to family," said Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, commander of Navy Region Hawaii. "It (also) brings closure to the shipmates and other survivors who served during this time."

Emory, a native of Peoria, Illinois, was serving as a seaman first class on the light cruiser USS Honolulu that fateful Sunday morning.

Flying from aircraft carriers, Japanese pilots attacked eight American battleships, destroying two, and left a trail of death and destruction. About 2,400 people, most of them in the military, were killed. The Honolulu escaped major damage.

The attack shook America's confidence and ushered the country into World War II.

After the war, Emory worked in Washington state before moving to Hawaii 27 years ago. The retiree began his quest, amassing records, including teeth charts.

"My first problem with the Punchbowl was they could not tell me where Pearl Harbor victims were found in the cemetery," Emory said on Thursday.

The amateur researcher likens his time-consuming efforts to solving a jigsaw puzzle.

Emory analyzes personnel deceased files, dental records and family information, and provides his reports to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, based in Hawaii.

The command, which identifies unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts, takes it from there.

Emory's research of military records first led to the 2001 identification of Seaman Apprentice Thomas Hembree, who served on the USS Curtiss.

Dental records and a photo helped authorities identify Vanderpool, assigned to the USS Pennsylvania.

According to JPAC, about 330 of those killed in the attack were buried in graves marked "unknown" at the Punchbowl.

In November 2003, Emory contacted JPAC, suggesting the grave of an unknown sailor could be that of Seaman 2nd Class Warren Paul Hickok. The remains were first buried in Honolulu's Nuuanu Cemetery before being moved to the Punchbowl.

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