HONOLULU (AP) — A Pearl Harbor survivor who pushed to identify buried unknown remains from the 1941 attack died Monday at age 97.
Ray Emory lived through the early morning Japanese aerial bombing but never forgot those who didn't. He spent the past few decades doggedly pushing for those unknown buried remains to be dug up, identified and returned to their families.
Emory died "died peacefully and without pain" in a hospital in Boise, Idaho, according to his family, said Billy Doughty, deputy director of public affairs for Navy Region Hawaii.
He recently moved to Boise to live with his son. He left Hawaii because his wife had died and he didn't have any family in Hawaii. He planned to go fishing in Idaho.
Before moving, he visited Pearl Harbor one last time in June. More than 500 sailors stood side-by-side on ships and piers to surprise him. They greeted him with salutes and cheers.
"Chief Emory fought back that day, manning his machine gun, taking on enemy planes," Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, said at the ceremony honoring Emory. "He continued to fight on throughout the War in the Pacific. He and his buddies, with help from the home front, helped create an unprecedented era of peace, stability and prosperity. Victory at the end of World War II was Ray's finest hour."
During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Emory managed to fire a few rounds at the airplanes that dropped the torpedoes. He still had an empty bullet casing that fell to his ship deck.
In 2012, the Navy and National Park Service recognized Emory for his work with the military and Department of Veterans Affairs to honor and remember Pearl Harbor's dead.
Bureaucrats didn't welcome his efforts, at least not initially. Emory says they politely told him to "'go you-know-where.'" It 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 USS Oklahoma who had been buried as unknowns in a national cemetery in Honolulu.
Since those 2015 exhumations, 138 sailors from the USS Oklahoma have been identified. About 77 have been reburied, many in their hometowns, bringing closure to families across the country.