ESCANABA – Bob Valley is concerned that he is running out of options to help identify the remains of 21 sailors that died on the battleship USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941. That may end his hopes of finding his brother who is possibly buried with the remaining “unknowns.”
“This is probably what I think is going to be our 11th and last hour for an attempt to get those identifications made,” he said.
The Escanaba man has spent 12 years as a member of the USS Oklahoma Family Inc. trying to persuade the U.S. Navy to exhume the bodies of 27 servicemen who were identified in 1949 yet buried as unknowns at the Punchbowl Cemetery in Hawaii. Five were identified when the 27 were rediscovered in 2002 and returned to their families.
Valley said they have been able to find family members from 21 of the 22 bodies remaining. One of them is from Dollar Bay in Houghton County.
“The families want closure. Not all of them. Some want to leave their loved ones buried where they are. There are some that want them identified and returned home. There are some that want them identified and given their own individual grave in Hawaii,” said Valley.
The Navy will not dig up the remaining bodies, Valley said, because unidentified bones were found with the first five bodies. He said the Navy plans to bury the remaining bones on Dec, 7, 2014.
Valley fears that will be the end of any attempt to identify any of the sailors killed on the USS Oklahoma including the 22 remaining that were previously identified.
On March 6, fifteen U.S. Senators signed a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asking that the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Council’s request be granted to exhume the caskets that contain the remains of the 21 men that they hope to identify.
The effort is led by Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Chris Murphy of Connecticut. The letter was not signed by Michigan’s Sens.Carl Levin or Debbie Stabenow.
At this point, Valley is not sure the letter from the Senators will make a difference.
“My opinion is the Navy is going to win out,” Valley said. They are going to get what they want and that is to have the bones buried on Ford Island most likely at the site of the USS Oklahoma Memorial is. They want to invite the families over for a ceremony on Dec. 7 and I think that is going to be the finality of this.”
Valley said he does not understand the Navy’s position not to identify more of the unknown sailors from the USS Oklahoma given Congress’ mandate in 2010 to increase the number of identifications of missing servicement by 2015.
He is still holding on to the hope that JPAC will be allowed to dig up additional bodies in hopes that his brother might still be found. Lowell Valley was 19 years old when he served on the USS Oklahoma when it was attacked by the Japanese.
“I would love to bring him home, he said.