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Disaster's toll still debated, but dead are not forgotten


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POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2009

Official military records say the West Loch disaster resulted in the deaths of 163 men. However, Pearl Harbor historian Ray Emory disputes that figure and said he can only account for 132 casualties.

"No one single list is complete. When you take the various lists and add them up, it comes to 132."

Records say that on May 21, 1944, without warning, a munitions explosion on one of 29 Navy landing ships set off a chain reaction in Pearl Harbor that killed 163 men and wounded 396. The Navy kept the incident secret until 1960.

Emory, who served on the USS Honolulu when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, is credited for a change in the law that allowed for the date and ship name to be placed on grave markers of unknown sailors who died on the USS Arizona. He also got the Department of Veterans Affairs to change the gravestones of 39 plots at the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl from simply saying "Unknown" to "Unknown; West Loch Disaster; Pearl Harbor; May 21, 1944."

In addition, Emory has been working with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to help identify remains of sailors who served on the USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma.