75 years later, a Navy sailor killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor has gotten a proper burial. Petty Officer 1st Class Vernon Luke was laid to rest during a ceremony Wednesday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. As HPR’s Molly Solomon reports, he was the first to be reburied out of nearly 400 soldiers who were previously marked as unknowns.
Seven sailors lifted the coffin of Vernon T. Luke, a Navy Machinist’s mate who was killed aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma. The soldiers raised their arms in salute after draping and folding an American flag. In the background, a bugler played as a firing detail shot off three rounds.
Luke was one of 388 unidentified sailors who lost their lives in the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. Most of those killed were buried in graves marked as unknown, many right here at Punchbowl. Luke is one of the first soldiers whose remains have been confirmed. "It's different for the Navy because in a lot of cases the final burial ground is at sea," said Rear Admiral John Fuller, the Navy Region Hawai‘i commander. "You go down with your ship."
Fuller says recent efforts by the military include a push to name the hundreds of soldiers who remain unknown. Last year, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, moved 61 caskets at Punchbowl cemetery "You're very proud to know that your service member died on the U.S.S. Oklahoma," said Fuller. "But now, instead of being one of the unnamed, you can say specifically, this was my family member, I know exactly where to go and see them. It just gives you closure."
Fuller stood alongside two members of Luke’s family: his niece LeeAnn Michalske and Marilyn Gardner, the widow of Luke’s nephew. The two women threw leis onto Luke’s coffin, as it was lowered into the ground. "He was a common person doing uncommon things and made the ultimate sacrifice," said Fuller. "In my book, he's a hero and a great exemplar of the generation. Without thinking, he ran towards the fight."
The identities of soldiers such as Luke would likely still be unknown if it weren’t for the efforts of Ray Emory. The 94-year-old is a former Navy Chief Petty Officer who was aboard the U.S.S. Honolulu the day of the attack. For decades, he’s worked to get his shipmates identified and properly honored. "Here it is 75 years after the attack, they're finally getting around to getting some of these people really identified," Emory said. "It's taken a long time to do it."
So far, the military has made 16 identifications. A second sailor Ensign Lewis Stockdale from Montana is scheduled to be buried next Friday.