After 66 years, hope remains

A Swanzey man’s family gets startling news

Published July 12, 2008 in the Keene Sentinel
By Casey Farrar
Sentinel Staff
Sixty-six years after he joined the U.S. Navy, Edwin C. Hopkins of Swanzey may soon return home.

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 cfarrar@keenesentinel.com.

A North Walpole furniture store burns to the ground

Aumand family opened store three generations ago

Published July 10, 2008 in the Keene Sentinel
By Casey Farrar
Sentinel Staff
NORTH WALPOLE — Fire officials are investigating the cause of an early morning fire that wiped out an 88-year-old family furniture business in North Walpole today.

Werden said she was awake at the time, with her windows open and a fan blowing, when she smelled smoke.

She went to her porch and noticed smoke coming from the area of the furniture store.

Around the same time, Steven and Brenda Forrest, and their son, Kyle, who live at 7 West St., smelled smoke and ran over to Shaughnessy’s house to get her out. They saw smoke coming out of the back of the furniture store, Steven Forrest said.

After Shaughnessy was safely moved to his house, Steven Forrest said he went back out to the street to watch the fire.

North Walpole Fire Chief Edward C. Hasselmann said when firefighters arrived smoke was pouring from the back of the building, but flames quickly flashed up the outside and over the roof.

“I saw the roof collapse and the walls popped out and you could see that it was fully engulfed by flames,” Forrest said.

Werden said once she knew Shaughnessy was safe, and after telling other neighbors about the fire, she collected some belongings and her dog and left, so she would be out of the way of fire crews.

“Since it was in Aumands’, I knew it would generate a lot of heat and I thought it was best just to stay out of the way in case things got worse,” she said this morning, standing on her porch which overlooks the wreckage.

A firefighter came to the Aumands’ house on 1 Mountain View Road in North Walpole and woke them shortly after the fire started, Celeste Aumand said.

Around 12:30 a.m., police closed off the railroad, which runs across the street from the furniture store. It was reopened at 5:41 a.m.

The fire was under control by 4:34 a.m., according to a press release from the North Walpole Fire Department.

Firefighters from North Walpole, Bellows Falls and Walpole were the first to arrive at the fire. Crews from Charlestown, Langdon, Westminster, Vt., Rockingham, Vt., Westmoreland, Saxtons River, Vt. and Alstead also fought the blaze.

Tanker trucks from Keene, Lempster, Guilford, Vt., Putney, Vt., Chesterfield and Sullivan, along with pump trucks from Brattleboro, Claremont and Marlow were called out to the fire. In all, about 80 firefighters helped with the blaze.

Route 12 to North Walpole was closed this morning, with traffic being diverted to Route 5 in Bellows Falls.

Dozens of exhausted firefighters remained at the scene to help with the cleanup today. Firefighters stepped over blackened bed frames and charred pieces of chairs, digging through the smoldering rubble.

Hasselmann said something in the basement was still burning this morning. He said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

A small oil leak from the building onto Church Street was cleaned up, which Hasselmann said may have been caused from a broken line in the building.

The Aumand family, which gathered this morning in a small, separate building that is part of the business, plans to have the store up and running in their warehouse at 3 Mountain View Road later today, Christopher Aumand said.

The furniture showroom, which was built in the 1920s and was the former home of her grandparents, Ernie and Mame Aumand, was insured and the family plans to rebuild, Celeste Aumand said.

She is the third generation working for the family business, which was converted from a general store to a furniture store in 1972.

Casey Farrar can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or cfarrar@keenesentinel.com.

(Article originally published in The Keene Sentinel print edition entitled A town landmark burns.)

Officials say the fire started in the back of Aumands & Sons Inc., a furniture store at 2 Church St. owned by Raymond J. and Ellen R. Aumand, and their children Christopher J. and Celeste A. Aumand.

Only a small part of the 20,000-square-foot showroom building still stands. This morning, firefighters continued to douse smoking piles of rubble where the building once stood.

A small red house next to the furniture store on West Street, owned by Mary Shaughnessy, was also damaged in the fire. An outside wall and part of the roof were blackened by the flames.

No injuries were reported.

A neighbor, Mary Werden of 9 West St., reported the fire just after midnight.