|NPR HISTORY DEPT.|
#AceHistoryNews – May.17: Edwin Hopkins was on the USS Oklahoma when it was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
He was buried in a grave of unknown sailors, and his family believed his body was never identified. But it was – and now, 74 years later, there is a plan to bring him home.
In September 1941 Hopkins wrote a postcard home, with a picture of the battleship he was going to serve on.
"He said he was going off to board the Oklahoma for Hawaii. He sent that to his mother and that was it," says Tom Gray, Hopkins’ cousin. The family still treasures the card, as their last contact with the teenage sailor.
Three months later, almost to the day, the Oklahoma was the first ship to be hit during the surprise Japanese assault and capsized in less than 15 minutes.
"Edwin was a fireman third class and he was probably deep down in the hold when the ship was torpedoed. When the ship went down that was the last my family heard of him until 2008," says Gray.
Hopkins grew up in Swanzey, New Hampshire and was remembered by the family as "just a great guy, the life of the party", says Gray.
When Americans began to enlist in large numbers after the fall of France in June 1940 and the start Battle of Britain a few weeks later, Hopkins’ older brother, Frank Jr, and one of his cousins went into the US Navy. Before long, at the age of 18, Hopkins followed them.
"They came home and Edwin did not. It was an open wound," says Gray.
"They always honoured him and they kept him alive through stories. My entire family, we’re all raised around Edwin Hopkins. I think it’s a tribute to my family that they passed the emotions and the feelings on to the next generation. He lives in our minds and we never met him."
Out of the 429 servicemen on the Oklahoma who died that day, only 35 were identified at the time.