'Unknown' graves at Punchbowl to be updated

The graves of a group of Pearl Harbor sailors killed at the start of World War II will soon tell more of their story, Rep. Ed Case announced today. For decades, a group of 36 graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl have been marked simply as ‘Unknown.’ But a Pearl Harbor survivor has known for years that the men buried there were killed in the same accident in 1944. Ray Emory, a veteran sailor and historian, has documented proof that the 36 sailors died in a series of explosions and fires while unloading munitions at West Loch on May 21, 1944. Case said administrative red tape prevented the grave markers from being replaced with markers bearing more information, and that while the Defense Department favored the change, Veterans Administration policy allowed replacement markers “only if an identification is made, a mistake was made in the inscription, or damage or weathering requires a replacement.” But yesterday, Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson announced that the graves would indeed get new markers that will read: “Unknown, West Loch Disaster, Pearl Harbor, May 21, 1944.” Case said the decision fulfills Emory’s longtime wish. “The addition of more information on the gravemarkers also helps Punchbowl’s visitors, the families of unknowns, and future generations to understand as best as possible how these sailors served all of us,” he said.

Case said he had written letters to Nicholson and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld requesting the change, noting that the Veterans Affairs policy had been flexible in the past. He cited legislation drafted by the late Rep. Patsy Mink that allowed the graves of several unknown soldiers to note that they had died aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, and subsequent decisions to add other ship names where known.

“There was good cause to make this change, and we can all be glad that the red tape our government creates for itself can be cut,” Case said. “Especially when we need to do it for the sake of compassion, respect, and in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”

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