A Swanzey man’s family gets startling news
Published July 12, 2008 in the Keene Sentinel
By Casey Farrar
The youngest of two brothers, Hopkins followed his brother Frank Hopkins Jr. into the Navy in January 1941, said Murray J. Tolman of Gilsum, who grew up with the brothers.
After finishing basic training and fireman’s school, Edwin Hopkins boarded the USS Oklahoma on Sept. 11, 1941, in San Diego and headed for Honolulu, Hawaii.
Less than three months later, on Dec. 7, Hopkins was one of 429 sailors and personnel who died aboard the ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was 19.
In January 1942, his family was notified that he was killed in action, but his remains were never recovered.
More than 60 years passed with no more information about Hopkins, whose parents died in the 1980s and whose brother died in January.
Then, in February, his niece received a call that gave the family hope his remains might some day be brought back home.
In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, 35 bodies from the USS Oklahoma were recovered and identified.
The rest remained underwater, on board the sunken ship.
The ship had recorded the second highest casualties of the attack, following the USS Arizona, which lost more than 1,100 men. In all, nearly 2,400 Americans lost their lives in the attack.
In 1943, the USS Oklahoma was pulled from the water and 381 unidentified bodies were recovered, with 13 men unaccounted for, according to Robert L. Valley of the USS Oklahoma Crew Members and Family organization.
The bodies were placed in 45 mass grave sites at Halawa and Nu’uana cemeteries in Honolulu.
Six years later, the Army Graves Registration Service disinterred the naval graves at Halawa and Nu’uana and tried to identify the remains.
Those who couldn’t be identified were reburied in the newly created Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, more commonly called the Punchbowl, along with the bodies of soldiers killed all across the islands of the South Pacific.
The story might have ended there, except for the sleuthing of Pearl Harbor survivor Raymond D. Emory.
Nearly two decades ago, Emory, 87, who was assigned to the USS Honolulu during the attack, began researching and trying to match names to the unknowns.
First, Emory, who lives in Hawaii, walked through the Punchbowl and gathered a list of unknowns killed on the day of the attack.
Then he was able to get the burial records from Halawa and Nu’uana, which contained information about what ships the men had died on, Emory said.
From there, he obtained lists of casualties from each ship and compared them to the lists of identified dead.
His research led to the discovery of 27 men from the USS Oklahoma whose files showed they had been identified in 1949, but were buried as unknown because an anthropologist refused to sign off on the identification at the time.
The families were never notified of the identifications and the remains of the 27 men are buried in four graves at Section P of the Punchbowl, Emory said.
“I started this whole thing because I want these men to be honored for what they did,” Emory said.
Emory contacted Valley, of the USS Oklahoma Family organization, to search for the families of the 27 men whose names could now be attached to their unidentified remains.
Contacting families is a challenge, since most of the family members listed in the men’s military records died long ago, Valley said.
He has found 16 of the 27 men’s families so far.
In February, Hopkins’ niece, Faye Boore of Delaware, got an unexpected call.
“A gentleman asked if I knew Edwin Hopkins,” Boore said. “I also have a brother and nephew named Edwin, but then he told me he was calling to inform me that my uncle’s remains had been identified.”
Valley, whose brother served on the USS Oklahoma, found Boore’s name by searching a Web site for the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., for which Boore had registered her father and uncle.
“All I had was her name, so I searched around some more, found a telephone number and called her,” Valley said. “I had no idea what her relation was to Edwin.”
Once she learned of the discovery, Boore submitted her own DNA samples to identify Hopkins.
She’s hoping the results will prove a match and allow her to bring Hopkins back to Keene, where a headstone in the family plot at the Woodland Cemetery marks his empty grave.
But first, Boore said she has to convince the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, an agency based in Hawaii charged with finding and identifying missing soldiers, to exhume Hopkins’ grave in the Punchbowl.
Emory’s research indicated Hopkins is buried in a grave that contains the remains of 10 men, in two caskets.
Emory provided convincing-enough evidence that one of the four graves was exhumed in June 2003 by the accounting agency.
Analysis of the remains revealed “that they are extensively commingled and represent at least 28 individuals rather than the five Sailors indicated by historical records,” according to a letter written in April by the acting director of the agency.
Boore and the USS Oklahoma organization have enlisted the help of lawmakers across the country to ask the accounting agency to exhume the other graves.
The agency has responded in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
Acting director Stephen M. Goldfein wrote in April that the agency has been inundated with DNA samples — 74 from this case alone, or about one-tenth of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory’s annual sample capacity.
“At this time, additional exhumations would be premature,” Goldfein wrote. “As analysis of the remains already in the laboratory proceeds, we will revisit the possibility of additional exhumations.”
But Valley and Boore say the agency shouldn’t make families wait any longer.
“They should exhume the graves, do the testing and right the wrong that has been done to these families for all these years,” Boore said.
She said her family needs closure for her uncle’s death.
Until her death in 1987, Hopkins’ mother, Alice, held on to the hope that one day her son would come home safely, Boore said.
“Since they never found his body, my grandmother always thought he’d wake up from amnesia and come home,” Boore said. “It’s only natural. That’s the way you think when you’re a mother.”
Hopkins is the namesake of Keene’s Dillant-Hopkins Municipal Airport, which opened in 1943 and honored Hopkins and Thomas D. Dillant, a Keene man who also died in World War II.
Boore said now her goal is to bring Hopkins back to Keene to be placed next to his parents.
“For 60 years he has been in a grave half way across the world, and it’s time to bring him home,” she said.
Casey Farrar can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or firstname.lastname@example.org.