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March 05. 2014 8:18PM

Sen. Ayotte urges exhumation of 'unknown' remains on Oklahoma

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has co-authored a letter requesting Pentagon officials grant the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command's Central Identification Laboratory's request to exhume five "unknown" caskets and identify the remains inside — a move that could help relatives of a Swanzey man killed during the attacks on Pearl Harbor bring him home.

On Dec. 7, 1941, 3rd Class Fireman Edwin Hopkins from Swanzey was killed while serving onboard the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. Tom Gray, Hopkins' second cousin, wants his 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," Gray told the Union Leader from his home in Guilford, Conn. "We know where he is. He deserves more than a comingled grave marked 'unknown.'"

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 cousin's 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.

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.

Ayotte, along with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have co-authored a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asking the five caskets be exhumed, and the remains identified.

pfeely@unionleader.com


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