After 80+ Years: Black Sailor IDENTIFIED From The Depths Of Pearl Harbor

By Tommy Wilson | Sunday, 14 April 2024 09:20 PM
Views 2.7K

Over eight decades after the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the remains of a black sailor, David Walker, have been identified.

Walker, a 19-year-old high school dropout from Norfolk, Virginia, served as a mess attendant in the racially segregated navy.

He was aboard the USS California, stationed at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was struck by two Japanese torpedoes and sank on December 7, 1941.

Walker was among the 103 casualties on the USS California that day, over half of whom were African American mess attendants, cooks, and stewards. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced last month that they had finally located and identified Walker's remains.

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Cheryle Stone, Walker's cousin and closest surviving relative, described the news as 'heartbreaking,' lamenting that Walker's mother, who never ceased searching for him, was not alive to witness this moment.

The remains of those aboard the USS California were recovered between December 1941 and April 1942 and interred in the Halawa and Nu'uanu Cemeteries. After the initial round of identification, 42 casualties were named. In 1947, the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains and transferred them to the Central Identification laboratory at Schofield Barracks. However, only 39 men from the USS California were identified at that time. The unidentified remains were subsequently buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

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In 1949, a military board deemed the remains of the unresolved crew members, including Walker, non-recoverable. However, in 2018, the DPAA exhumed the remains of 25 unidentified sailors from the Punchbowl. Through anthropological, dental analysis, and mitochondrial DNA analysis, forensic scientists from the DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System identified Walker's remains in November 2023.

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Walker's name is engraved on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl in Hawaii. Now that he has been accounted for, a rosette will be placed next to his name. Walker will be laid to rest on September 5, 2024, in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Walker's mother, Edna Lee Ward, who passed away in 1951, tirelessly sought her son after the attack on the USS California. In 1942, she walked into a newspaper office with a picture of her son, requesting that they print it.

Walker's cousin, Cheryle Stone, expressed sympathy for Edna, stating, 'His mom had been looking for him all that time, it was heartbreaking.' She added that many families continue to suffer, with their loved ones never identified.

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Walker, who grew up in segregated Norfolk, Virginia, attended Portsmouth's I.C. Norcom High School, an early high school for Black students, before dropping out to join the navy. As an African American, Walker was only permitted to work as a mess attendant.

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Matthew F. Delmont, a professor of history at Dartmouth College and author of 'Half American,' a study of African Americans during World War II, told the Washington Post: 'Mess attendants were the lowest rank on the ship. They did the cooking and cleaning, essentially at the service of white officers. It was an important role for the overall functioning of the ship. They're the ones who managed the galleys and made sure everyone got fed.'

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Delmont emphasized that finding Walker's remains serves as a crucial reminder of the dozens of Black mess attendants who died and remain unidentified, and the numerous families still seeking answers. He highlighted the segregation and discrimination that Black Americans faced in the service of their country.

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The Navy remained racially segregated in training and service units until 1942 when the enlisted rates opened to all qualified persons, according to the U.S. Navy's History and Heritage Command website page.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in the death of 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, as per the Census Bureau. Nineteen U.S. Navy ships, including eight battleships, were destroyed or damaged during the raid.

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