HONOLULU (AP) — A sailor killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor has been buried with full military honors nearly 75 years later.
Petty Officer 1st Class Vernon Luke, a machinist’s mate, of Green Bay, Wisconsin was laid to rest at a veterans cemetery in Honolulu on Wednesday.
The 43-year-old man died when Japanese planes bombed his battleship, the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941.
After World War II, he was buried as an “unknown” along with nearly 400 other unidentified sailors and Marines from the battleship.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency last year dug up their remains, saying advances in forensic science and technology had made identification more feasible.
It disinterred 61 caskets at 45 grave sites at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which is in an extinct volcanic crater commonly known as Punchbowl. Many coffins contained comingled remains of multiple people.
Luke was among the first five from the Oklahoma who was identified and whose family has been notified, agency spokeswoman Lt. Col. Holly Slaughter said. He is the first of the newly identified to be reburied, she said.
Sailors lifted the American flag that was draped on the casket and folded it. Rear Adm. John Fuller, Navy Region Hawaii commander, presented the flag to Luke’s niece, Leeann Michalski. A rifle detail performed a 21-gun salute and a Navy chaplain said a prayer.
Michalski and Marilyn Gardner, the widow of Luke’s nephew, threw flower lei on top of the casket after workers lowered it into one of the gravesites that had been exhumed.
Luke was a “common person doing uncommon things, and he made the ultimate sacrifice,” Fuller said, calling him a hero.
A second sailor will be reburied at Punchbowl on March 18. Ensign Lewis Stockdale of Anaconda, Montana was 27 when he was killed in the Pearl Harbor attack. Altogether, 429 onboard the Oklahoma were killed. Only 35 were identified in the years immediately after. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency expects to identify 80 percent of the Oklahoma unknown within five years.
Military laboratories in Hawaii, Nebraska and Delaware have been studying the remains using dental records and DNA analysis.
Ray Emory was a sailor aboard the USS Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Wednesday, he attended Luke’s funeral.
For years Emory pushed the military to exhume and identify Oklahoma servicemen and those still missing from other battleships
“Here it is 75 years after the attack and they’re finally getting around to getting some of these people identified,” said Emory, now 94. “It’s taken them a long time to do it.”
More than 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Oklahoma’s casualties were second only to the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177 men.