Recently-identified USS Oklahoma sailor buried with full military honors in Hawaii
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: July 13, 2017
HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The son of sharecropper farmers in Kansas, 18-year-old Robert Monroe Temple joined the Navy around 1939 for a better future.
“It was a rough life,” his brother, Jim, said of life on the farm.
Jim Temple, now 88, was a boy at the time, and he remembers his older brother mowing fields with a sickle mower and a team of horses.
“He went under a tree and there was a hornet’s nest on it,” Jim Temple said. “And he hit that and they stung his face. He almost died from it. But they didn’t take you to the hospital in those days.”
Onboard the battleship USS Oklahoma, Seaman 1st Class Temple, known as Bobby to his family, would write home regularly. He “bragged about the ship, how proud he was of it,” his brother said. “He read an article where they said it was old and outdated and it kind of offended him.”
The letters from the 19-year-old stopped as of Dec. 7, 1941.
In the Pearl Harbor attacks, the Oklahoma took at least nine torpedoes on its port side and rolled, resulting in the death of 429 crew members.
Until March, the family didn’t know definitively where Temple’s body wound up.
“They towed the Oklahoma back to the states and it sunk. We didn’t know whether he was still on that,” Jim Temple said. “We didn’t know whether he was on the bottom of Pearl Harbor. We didn’t know where he was at.”
On Wednesday, Bobby Temple was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as Punchbowl, with full military honors after the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency at Hickam made an identification using DNA from Jim Temple, his sister and a niece.
He had been buried at Punchbowl as one of 388 “unknowns” recovered from the mangled battleship.
In April 2015, with advances made in science, the deputy secretary of defense issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of all the Oklahoma unknowns.
So far, 70 identifications have been made, including that of Temple; Seaman 1st Class Paul S. Raimond, 20, who was reburied at the cemetery on Tuesday; and Fire Controlman 3rd Class Robert L. Pribble, 19, who will be reburied next week, officials said.
Gene Maestas, a Punchbowl spokesman, said the families of the vast majority of those identified have chosen to bury their loved ones elsewhere.
Jim Temple, a retired Navy chief petty officer who wore a summer white service uniform to the ceremony, said Punchbowl was selected because it will always be a national memorial cemetery.
“When cemeteries are gone in other places, this place is going to be here,” he said.
His wife, Malvine, and two daughters also came out.
Temple recalled getting the phone call from the accounting agency in March saying a positive ID had been made.
“We were both on the phone and (my wife) started crying,” he said. “But it wasn’t only for sadness. It was an elation, too. We felt that he was finally identified.”
He remembers how his mother was affected when news came of her son’s death more than 75 years ago.
“It wasn’t as traumatic for me, being a young child, as it was for my mother,” he said. “It just devastated her. It took the happiness out of our home. I hated coming home from school. She was in such grief.”
Following the Pearl Harbor attacks and up to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the Oklahoma crew and interred the bodies in Halawa and Nuuanu cemeteries.
In September 1947, the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The lab was able to confirm the identifications of only 35 men from the Oklahoma at that time.
The “unknowns” were buried in 46 plots at Punchbowl, and in 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as nonrecoverable.
The Defense Department in late 2015 recovered the last of the 388 crew members from Punchbowl. The exhumations had already begun with a casket unearthed in 2003 as a result of research by Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Emory, who manned a .50-caliber machine gun on the USS Honolulu.
Using military records, Emory determined the identities of 27 men killed on the Oklahoma. The Pentagon exhumed one casket and positively identified five men. But incomplete sets of bones of more than 100 other men also were found, complicating further identifications until all the remains were recovered.
“Mr. Emory, who got this started — I thank him dearly,” Temple said.
Emory, 96, who lives in Honolulu, was there for the burials this week, and said he’ll be there again Tuesday for the next one. He has devoted decades to researching the identities of Pearl Harbor unknowns.
“All of them should get respect,” Emory said. “After all, they were a bunch of young kids that joined the service … and getting killed like they did, they were actually murdered on the first first day (of World War II for America) and never even had a chance to fight.”
More than two dozen Navy personnel were in attendance. The burial service included a rifle salute and taps.
“It was such a blessing to see all this and experience it,” Temple said.
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