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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sailor's gravestone no longer marked as 'unknown'

Thursday, March 7, 2002

HONOLULU -- The fourth burial for a sailor who died more than 60 years ago in the attack on Pearl Harbor meant the headstone over his grave would finally bear a first and last name instead of "Unknown."

Thomas Hembree was reburied Tuesday with full military honors at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the same grave where he had rested in anonymity for decades.

Members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association joined Hembree's nieces and nephews -- some of whom had never met before, for the 30-minute ceremony, which included a rifle salute, Taps and the presentation of folded American flags.

Niece played role

Niece Marion Price, of Seattle, said she was 3 years old when her uncle was killed in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack.

Two days later, Hembree, of Kennewick, Wash., a 17-year-old crewman on the seaplane tender USS Curtis, was buried as an unknown in the civilian Nuuanu Cemetery in Honolulu.

He and another sailor were exhumed in 1947 for identification but Hembree's remains were returned to his grave still unidentified. His remains were transferred to National Memorial in 1949.

He was disinterred again in January 2001, and specialists at the Army's Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii used dental records and a skeletal analysis of his remains to identify him, said laboratory spokeswoman Ginger Couden. Price said she sent a blood sample for DNA testing.

Remains indentified

Hembree was the first of the 467 Pearl Harbor unknown servicemen at the cemetery to be identified, said director Gene Castagnetti. No other remains from Pearl Harbor are currently being investigated.

Although most of the relatives attending the graveside service hadn't been born when Hembree died, they all knew about him.

"I grew up knowing Uncle Tommy because my father had his picture on his dresser," said Beth LaRosa, a niece from Altadena, Calif. "We represent our parents on a day they never would have dreamed was possible."

LaRosa and Price said they did not meet until after their uncle was identified.

"It is a closure but it is also a beginning. We talk almost daily," Price said with her arm around LaRosa, her newfound cousin.


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