DENVER – A sailor who was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was reburied at a Colorado cemetery on Thursday after his previously unknown remains were identified through DNA.
Wallace Eakes was buried with full military honors at Fort Logan National Cemetery. About 100 people, mostly veterans with no other connection to Eakes besides their military service, attended the service, cemetery director Mat Williams said.
Eakes was a 22-year-old sailor on the USS Oklahoma when it was torpedoed and sank on Dec. 7, 1941. He had been buried as an unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. His remains were identified last year by the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
His nephew and next of kin, Gary Eakes of Tacoma, Washington, said he was stunned by the news.
He decided to have his uncle's body reburied in Colorado because Eakes' parents and sister had moved there from Kansas and are buried in a private cemetery in the Denver area.
"When I talked to my grandparents (Wallace Eakes' parents), they never said what to do if they found him," Gary Eakes said. "I'm just kind of hoping that's what they wanted. That's the best I could do."
Eakes was born and raised in Caney, Kansas, and played on his high school football team, Gary Eakes said. He was a storekeeper third class on the Oklahoma and was among 429 sailors and Marines aboard who died on the ship after it was hit by at least nine torpedoes.
Of the Oklahoma's dead, 388 were buried as unknowns in Honolulu. In 2015, the Pentagon exhumed their remains in hopes of identifying 80 percent of them. Some of the remains, especially those burned to ash, will never be identified.
So far, over 135 have been identified and over 70 have been reburied, many in their hometowns.
The foundation for that project was built by a sailor who survived the attack and doggedly worked for the past few decades to identify the unknown service members.
First, Ray Emory managed to get gravestones for unknowns from the USS Arizona marked with the name of their battleship. Then, in 2003, the military agreed to dig up a casket that Emory was convinced, after meticulously studying records, included the remains of multiple USS Oklahoma servicemen. Five sailors were identified.
Emory, 97, was honored by more than 500 soldiers Tuesday in a surprise ceremony when he made his last visit to Pearl Harbor before moving from Hawaii to be with family in Boise, Idaho.
They greeted him with salutes as he arrived on a golf cart and shouted cheers of "Hip, Hip, Hooray!"