75 years later, family able to honor USS Oklahoma sailor killed in Pearl Harbor attack

Published: Jul. 12, 2017 at 9:52 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 13, 2017 at 4:56 PM HST
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(Image: James Temple)
(Image: James Temple)

James Temple remembers receiving $5 from his older brother "Bobby" for a new bike in 1941.

Nearly eight decades later, James, now 87, is in Hawaii to finally salute his brother's casket.

"We wanted my brother buried here at Punchbowl," Temple said. "He had been here as an unknown for 74 years."

This year, new DNA evidence identified Navy Seaman First Class Robert "Bobby" Monroe Temple among those lost on the USS Oklahoma in the Pearl Harbor attacks on Dec. 7, 1941. And on Wednesday, family, friends and members of the U.S. Navy laid Robert to rest with full military honors at the National Cemetery of the Pacific.

Robert, like many others who lost their lives in the Pearl Harbor attacks, remained nameless for decades.

"We are blessed to know that he has finally been identified," James Temple said. "We didn't know if he was at the bottom of the Pearl Harbor. We had no idea where he was at."

Identifying the "unknowns"

The Navy has been working for years to identify the unknown victims through the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Ray Emory, a Pearl Harbor survivor from the USS Honolulu, began the re-identification process of many unknown soldiers after finding out many unknown veterans laid in mass graves.

"This is my hobby. Since I was kind of the father of all this, they'd like to have me come," Emory said, while attending the ceremony.

Starting in 2015, the bones of dozens of lost sailors have been compared with DNA samples of living relatives using modern forensic testing.

Recent repatriations are the result of continued efforts by the U.S. Navy to exhume, test and identify those lost on the USS Oklahoma.

For the Temple family, the Navy's efforts to identify a lost loved one has done much more than bringing Robert home.

"We are grateful of all the Navy did to honor him," said John Temple, Robert's nephew and pastor at Faith Family Church in Shiloh, Ill. "It refreshed the gratitude in our hearts for this nation."

Celebrating a legacy and giving hope for more

James Temple said his whole family felt elated yet sad after hearing the news of his brother's identification.

"My wife cried and I teared up a little bit," he said.

Robert's sacrifice left a lasting legacy as most of the Temple family has served in the military, according to his nephew.

"I think Uncle Bobby's sacrifice had a lot to do with that," John Temple said.

Last month, the family threw a memorial service where they live, in Shiloh, Ill. Over 3,600 flags lined the roads as community members came out to celebrate the fallen seaman.

"There were probably 400 people and they all stood in unison and clapped," James Temple said. "It was really a touching moment."

Robert was one of three men reinterred at Punchbowl this month.

After traveling to Honolulu for the ceremony, James Temple said finally laying his brother to rest was a "miracle." He wants other hurting families to remain hopeful that this won't be the end for other unmarked graves.

"I would tell the families that haven't yet had their loved ones identified to keep hope," Temple said. "The Navy is doing everything they can to identify the remains."

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