A Young Sailor’s Remains Have Been Identified Eight Decades After He Died at Pearl Harbor

David Walker was a 19-year-old mess attendant aboard the USS “California” when Japan launched its surprise attack

Black and white photo of sailor in uniform
David Walker, 19, was a mess attendant aboard the USS California. Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency

On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States’ naval base on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The military strike killed about 2,400 people—including 68 civilians—and wounded over 1,000 others.

David Walker, a 19-year-old from Norfolk, Virginia, was among them. Walker was a mess attendant third class aboard the USS California, which was one of the 19 U.S. ships damaged or destroyed.

He was thought to have died in the attacks, but his remains were never identified. Now, using advanced forensic technologies, military officials have confirmed that Walker was among the 103 USS California crew members killed on that fateful day.

Officials with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified Walker’s remains in November. The agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Defense, recovers and identifies missing military personnel. It announced the news last week.

Walker will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in September. Additionally, a rosette will be placed next to his name on the Walls of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu “to indicate he has been accounted for,” per the agency.

Walker was one of 25 unknown USS California crew members buried in Hawaii. Six years ago, those bodies were exhumed. Scientists then used mitochondrial DNA, anthropological and dental analyses to verify Walker’s identity.

Walker had been attending I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth, Virginia, when he decided to drop out and enlist in the U.S. Navy, reports CNN’s Zenebou Sylla.

“There were only a handful of jobs that were open to African American service members in the Navy, and mess attendant was one of them,” Sean Everette, a spokesperson for the agency, tells the New York Times’ Lola Fadulu. “Back then, the Navy was still segregated.”

He died about a year after he enlisted. According to a news clipping shared by the agency, his mother, Edna Lee Ward, asked a local reporter to publish his picture and announce his death.

Today, Walker has few living relatives. Military officials contacted his next of kin, a 70-year-old cousin named Cheryle Stone, who was born after Walker died. She hadn’t known about Walker until the agency reached out.

As one of the few Black service members onboard the vessel, Walker “would have had to have been a very strong person,” Stone tells the Times.

Since 2018, officials have also identified the remains of four other previously unknown USS California crew members: Merle C.J. Hillman, a 25-year-old pharmacist mate second class from Holyoke, Massachusetts; Stanley C. Galaszewski, a 29-year-old seaman second class from Steubenville, Ohio; Pete Turk, a 20-year-old seaman second class from Scammon, Kansas; and Tceollyar Simmons, an 18-year-old seaman second class from Detroit.

Similar efforts are underway for service members killed aboard the USS West Virginia, per the Times. Officials also identified hundreds of crew members killed on the USS Oklahoma but ended that project in 2021.

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