Nearly 72 years after his second cousin was killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Tom Gray is still fighting for the remains of the Navy fireman buried half a world away.
Gray, of Guilford, Conn., and his relatives want to bury 3rd Class Fireman Edwin Hopkins in a family cemetery in his hometown of Keene, N.H. The remains of Hopkins, who was 19 when he was killed in the engine room on the USS Oklahoma in 1941, were designated as unknown by the Navy and remain in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii — also known as the “Punchbowl” — along with the remains of five other veterans.
“We just want him returned to his family, that’s what this is all about,” Gray, 64, told FoxNews.com. “This boy deserves to rest with his mother and father. It’s a burden and we want closure.”
The entire process to retrieve Hopkins’ remains has been tedious and agonizingly slow, Gray said. After providing mitochondrial DNA as proof of relation following a request from Navy officials, the remaining issue is the sanctity of the graves, he said.
Gray’s campaign for the remains has included letters to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, local elected officials and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. He has also obtained documentation indicating that Hopkins’ remains were uncovered and buried in the Halawa Navy Cemetery in 1943. Six years later, it was recommended that Hopkins’ remains be transferred to another gravesite along with his identity, but an anthropologist refused to sign the certificate because she didn’t have all of the remains to make a full identification. Hopkins' remains were ultimately transferred as unknown, Gray said.
“I’m doing everything I can to put pressure on them,” he said. “I know it’s an expensive process, but you know they have the means to do it.”
Further complicating matters, Gray said he has also been told by Navy officials that they do not want to disturb the sanctity of the graves in the casket in Hawaii.
“That’s still the case,” Navy spokeswoman Sarah Flaherty told the New Haven Register. “The grave has been disturbed a number of times. We don’t want to keep doing that.”
State Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, is now assisting Gray to connect with local lawmakers to “make a pitch” to Navy officials to exhume the remains, the newspaper reports.
Flaherty said plans for a USS Oklahoma memorial are now being discussed, but that won’t satisfy Gray and his mission to provide a final resting place for his second cousin.
“It’s something that I really want to happen,” he said. “Let’s put it this way: I’m 64 and if I live to be 84, I’m going to work on it that long. The honorable and moral thing to do is to identify this man.”
FoxNews.com's Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report.