For 76 years, Ray Emory has carried around a spent brass casing from the .50-caliber machine gun he fired at incoming Japanese planes the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
“I just reached over and picked it up and put it in my right hip pocket,” said the 97-year-old Emory, who was aboard the USS Honolulu docked at Pearl Harbor that day.
He doesn’t remember why he plucked it from the deck in the wake of the firefight, but he knows why he’s held onto it.
“It’s just part of me, I guess,” said the longtime Hawaii resident. “It’s just part of me.”
On Tuesday morning, 520 sailors in dress whites formed a dock-side honor cordon and ship-rail salute to Emory as he made a farewell visit to Bravo-21 pier where the USS Honolulu was berthed in 1941. He will soon depart for the mainland to live with family members after the death of his wife Jinny a month ago.
During a short ceremony, Emory told the sailors gathered there that he was ready to “head for the mainland and get my head screwed back on.”
He later told reporters, “As of right now, I just want to go and clear my mind — just go fishing.”
He was joined by his sister, grandson and other family members during the ceremony, which was held beside the base’s official monument honoring the USS Honolulu’s place in the historic attack.
Emory went on to serve on ships involved in the invasions of Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, Leyte Gulf, Lingayen Gulf and Iwo Jima. He got out of the Navy in 1946 as a chief boatswain’s mate and later earned a degree in architecture.
Emory toiled for years to identify the remains of servicemembers who died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the Dec. 7 Japanese attack and were buried as “unknowns” in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, also known as the Punchbowl.
He lobbied to have the remains exhumed and scientifically identified.
“Ray fought and fought hard,” Jim Taylor, Pearl Harbor survivor liaison to Navy Region Hawaii, told the audience.
Emory had been faced with “a lot of hardheaded people who were against him” in his effort to identify the unknowns, Taylor said.
In the past few years, most of the unknown graves have been exhumed and transferred to the lab at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency at the joint base for identification.
“Over 100 unknowns have been identified over here at the lab and returned to the Punchbowl with the proper name markers or to the mainland,” Taylor said.
“Ray, you’re the man who did it, nobody else,” Taylor said. “If it wasn’t for you, it would have never been done.”
Taylor presented Emory with a shadowbox holding an official POW-MIA flag.
“The bottom line is, you are not forgotten,” Taylor said. “And all those 100 people that you have personally been involved in identifying, they were not forgotten.”
Emory was visibly moved at several points during the honor cordon and ceremony, which had been a surprise to him.
“A couple weeks ago, when I decided probably to head for the mainland, there was one thing I would like to do,” he said. “I would like to go back down, just drop off at Pier 21 and say goodbye. Well, I’m saying goodbye, but I didn’t expect all these people to be here. Thank you very, very, very much.”
“Hawaii’s going to miss him,” Taylor said after the ceremony.
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