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Family wants remains of Swanzey sailor killed at Pearl Harbor returned for NH burial

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 05. 2013 6:34PM

On December 7, 1941, 3rd Class Fireman Edwin Hopkins from Swanzey was killed while serving onboard the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. In 2013, 72 years later, his second cousin is still fighting to bring him home.

Tom Gray wants his cousin's remains in Hawaii to be exhumed and turned over to his family, so they can bury him in a family plot in Keene.

"He was identified," said Gray, from his home in Guilford, Conn. "We know where he is. A 19-year-old boy lost his life. Our family paid the price of losing a loved one. He deserves more than a comingled grave marked 'unknown,' and we want to give him that. This can be fixed."

According to Gray, Hopkins' remains are buried along with other veterans in the National Memorial Cemetery on Oahu Island, a cemetery known as the "Punchbowl."

Gray said his family has traced his cousins remains to the National Memorial. He said in 1943, Hopkins and 381 other veterans were recovered from the wreck of the Oklahoma. Their bodies were buried in mass graves at the Halawa and Nu'uana cemeteries in Honolulu until 1949, when the Army Graves Registration Service disinterred the graves to identify the remains within each. The service recommended that 27 soldiers and Marines, including Hopkins, killed on the Oklahoma be identified. However, Gray said an anthropologist working on the project refused to certify his cousins remains, and they were all classified as unknown.

Gray feels the anthropologist balked at certifying the identity because the only part of his cousin recovered was his skull. Hopkins was identified through dental records, according to Gray.

Family members were never told of the disinterment. Hopkins and 26 other Marines and sailors were reburied in the Punchbowl, under a marker reading "unknowns." Gray says he is one of 10 men buried in Section P, Grave 1003, in National Memorial Cemetery.

Gray said his family found out about the ship raising and disinterment when Ray Emory, who served on the USS Honolulu, contacted them after conducting an independent investigation to identify the dead. He matched lists of the casualties from each ship to the names of the identified dead.

"We've had no closure, because the Navy never notified the family when the ship was raised and the remains were recovered," said Gray. "We knew nothing about this until 2008, and wouldn't have if not for Ray Emory's work."

Gray said he and other family members want Hopkins' remains exhumed and brought back east, to bury the fireman next to his parents in the Woodland Cemetery in Keene. He said he was told by a Navy spokesperson that their plan is to keep the remains at the Punchbowl, but that the ultimate decision will come from the secretary of the U.S. Army.

Gray has been in contact with members of the Connecticut Congressional delegation, as well as the office of New Hampshire Sen. Kelly A. Ayotte, asking for support in his efforts.

"We have a sacred obligation to honor our fallen service members, and I have urged the Pentagon to increase and improve its efforts to identify the remains of service members so they can be returned to their loved ones," said Sen. Ayotte on Thursday. "I am working with Pentagon officials and members of the Connecticut delegation to assist Mr. Gray with his family's request."

Gray said he has been in contact with relatives of the other deceased sailors and Marines, and feels an announcement on a decision regarding exhuming the remains could be coming "very soon."

Saturday marks the 72nd anniversary of "a date that will live in infamy, " when an air attack by Japanese forces on U.S. naval and air installations at Pearl Harbor took the lives of 2,341 American Navy, Marine and Army personnel. Another 1,178 were wounded. Eighteen U.S. Navy ships were sunk or badly damaged, and nearly all the planes at the Hawaiian bases were destroyed or damaged.

A ceremony was held in 2009 to unveil a sign naming the bridge that brings motorists across the Merrimack River and into Manchester-Boston Regional Airport the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge; about 18 Pearl Harbor survivors living in New Hampshire at the time attended the event.

Four Manchester natives were killed in the attack. Seaman 2nd Class Joe Rozmus died aboard the USS Arizona. Army Sgt. Maurice St. Germain and Pvt. Joseph Jedrysik died at Hickham Field. Seaman 1st Class David Crossett was shot twice by a Japanese fighter as he headed to the crow's nest of the USS Utah.

A memorial service will be held today at 11 a.m. at the New Hampshire Veterans Home to honor those lost in the attack. A small ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday at Arms Park along the Merrimack River in Manchester.

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