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Day that still lives in infamy

Ray Emory won't rest until the 'unknown' victims of Pearl Harbor are identified.

August 06, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

HONOLULU — Ray Emory, a survivor of the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, is on a roll, just a few degrees from a rant.

As much as he honors the memory of those killed aboard the USS Arizona, it rankles him that to much of the public, and even to some of the government employees entrusted with preserving the history of that brutal and momentous morning, the story seems to begin and end with the battleship that exploded and sank with more than 1,100 sailors and Marines aboard.

"What about the other ships at Pearl Harbor that morning?" he says. "Don't they count?"

Without waiting for an answer, he begins to list the other ships that were at ease in the tranquil waters of the U.S. naval base or in dry dock nearby when Japanese warplanes appeared out of the tropical sky and began bombing and strafing.

Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, California, Maryland, West Virginia, Honolulu, St. Louis....

Emory, 82, was a Navy seaman first class on Dec. 7, 1941, assigned to the light-cruiser Honolulu. When the explosions started, he rushed topside and began firing a .50-caliber machine gun at the Japanese planes, taking the fight directly to the new enemy without waiting for orders.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 14, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Pearl Harbor -- A photo caption accompanying an article in the Aug. 6 Calendar about the victims of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor mistakenly described Ray Emory as clearing grass from the gravestone of an unknown soldier at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. In fact, the gravestone was for 22 unknown sailors or Marines.

He declines to speculate on whether it was his fire that hit any of the 29 Japanese planes that were downed. Lots of guys were firing, he notes. When it comes to Dec. 7, Emory cannot abide sloppy talk, imprecision or ill-informed speculation. That only dishonors the memory of the men who died that day, he says. "They deserve better than that."

His nearly 20-year demand that the history of Dec. 7 be preserved with fidelity to detail has put Emory in conflict with officials of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu, and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, where many of those killed at Pearl Harbor are buried.

He has successfully campaigned to have changes made in the version of the Dec. 7 story told to visitors at the Arizona Memorial and to have more information put on the grave markers of men killed in the attack. And now he is pushing the government to do more to identify the remains of the 600-plus Dec. 7 victims listed as "unknown."

To get his way, Emory is not above being brusque and, if it serves his purpose, a bit intimidating. He is a formidable adversary. He marshals his facts; he is a favorite of the local press; and he has an unassailable credential in a city where military service is revered: He was at Pearl Harbor when the bombs fell and then served in 10 other naval engagements during World War II, mustering out as a chief.

"He's very passionate about what he's doing," said Michelle Bradley, assistant historian at the Arizona Memorial, which is run by the U.S. Park Service. "He's rough around the edges. People expect this little grandfather character, and instead he walks in, throws down his research and starts asking blunt questions."

As a volunteer historian of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn., Emory has had a running feud with the Park Service over what he feels are factual mistakes in its presentation of the Dec. 7 story and over its emphasis on the USS Arizona to the apparent exclusion of other ships. (Although, like much involving Dec. 7, there are disputes about how many service personnel were killed in the attack, a generally accepted number is 1,117 from the Arizona, 2,341 overall.)

Emory has also complained that the memorial's presentation seems to be value-neutral and seeks somehow to rationalize the Japanese attack as a response to the U.S. freezing its assets. Emory's passion for the subject led to a dust-up with the now-departed director of the memorial on the eve of the 50th anniversary commemoration in 1991, making front-page news in Honolulu and the mainland. (Changes were made in the presentation after the incident.)

He uses the Freedom of Information Act to request information from the military and has accumulated files thick with long-forgotten documents retrieved from its archives. He shows off one of his favorite pieces of correspondence: a starchy letter sent to him three years ago by a lieutenant colonel in the Army's mortuary affairs and casualty support division:

" ... We have expended more than enough manpower and hours in researching and responding to your many inquiries. This will be our final response to you regarding this issue."

Emory laughs: "He's gone now, but I'm still here."

One of Emory's longest-running campaigns was to persuade officials at the national cemetery to add "Dec. 7, 1941" and other information to the flat gravestones containing the remains of sailors, soldiers and Marines who were never identified and are listed only as unknown. Officials thought such additions were unneeded because the names of those presumed dead are already inscribed in a place of honor at the cemetery.

Victory and frustration

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