At the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl several graves used to hold the unidentified remains of hundreds of sailors who were killed aboard the USS Oklahoma.
Vernon Luke's remains were in one of those graves.
"Our nation owes Petty Officer Luke and his family our undying gratitude," Navy Chaplain Lt. Keith Russell said.
Luke was a 43-year-old Navy Machinist's Mate 1st Class. The husband and father from Green Bay, Wisconsin, also served in World War I. He died when
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. For more than 70 years, Luke's family didn't know what happened to his remains. On Wednesday he was buried with full military honors.
"We finally are able to recognize him individually for his efforts. It took a long time but it's nice knowing we did the right thing," said Rear Adm. John Fuller, Cmdr. of Navy Region Hawaii.
Luke's funeral would not have happened without the efforts of Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Emory.
"This is 75 years later. 75 years!" he said.
Emory compiled folders on Luke and dozens of USS Oklahoma sailors whose remains were previously considered unrecognizable or unrecoverable. Emory's paper trail traced Luke's remains to one of the USS Oklahoma graves marked unknown at Punchbowl.
Last year those graves were exhumed. Luke was one of the first sailors identified.
"If it was my brother or father, if he got killed somewhere, I'd sure like to know if his body is somewhere at least getting buried in a decent respect," Emory said.
Luke died in the line of duty. He was buried in a dignified ceremony.
"Most importantly, the family now knows where their sailor who served on the USS Oklahoma actually is," Fuller said, adding, "They have closure."
Luke's relatives LeeAnn Michalske and Marilyn Gardner declined to speak with reporters. Their tears spoke volumes.
After seven decades Vernon Luke finally has a resting place that is all his own.
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