Identified at Last: Sailor Lost in Pearl Harbor Finally Named

 April 13, 2024

Decades after the tragic attack on Pearl Harbor, a ray of hope emerges in the reclamation of history.

According to Daily Mail, David Walker, a young sailor who fell during the infamous assault in 1941, has been formally identified after over 80 years, thanks to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

David Walker, only 19 at the time of his enlistment, sacrificed a potential future outside the military by leaving his high school in Norfolk, Virginia, to serve aboard the USS California. His role as a mess attendant, a position largely designated to African Americans in a then-segregated Navy, underscored the limited opportunities available to black servicemen.


On that fateful day, December 7, 1941, Walker and the USS California were at the epicenter of the Japanese onslaught, leading to the ship's sinking and the loss of 103 lives, including over 50 African American sailors like Walker. It was a day of immense national tragedy and personal loss. The DPAA's announcement last month shone a light on one of these lost sailors, promising a semblance of closure to a long-open wound.

Cheryle Stone, Walker's cousin and nearest living relative, voiced her heartache, lamenting the absence of Walker's mother, Edna Lee Ward, who tirelessly sought her son until she died in 1951. Stone's words resonated with the pain of all those who waited for news that never came. "It was heartbreaking," told Cheryle Stone to the, concerning the fact that Walker's mother couldn't witness her son's identification. She continued, "His mom had been looking for him all that time, it was heartbreaking. I feel for the families. So many of their loved ones have never been identified. The war is over, but people don't think about whose left afterwards. There are so many families that continue to suffer."

Recovery and identification efforts have stretched over decades. Initially buried in Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries, the remains of USS California's crew members were moved in 1947 for further examination, yet, by 1949, many were declared non-recoverable. A change came in 2018 when the remains of 25 unidentified sailors were exhumed from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, leading to Walker’s identification through meticulous analysis.

Historical injustices remembered

Matthew F. Delmont, a historian, offered insight into the systemic racism that constrained African American sailors to roles of servitude, underscoring the significance of Walker’s identification not just as a personal victory but as a broader symbolic one.

Walker's recognition brings attention not only to his sacrifice but also to the segregated context that African American sailors like him navigated. The Navy, until 1942, confined them to service roles, a systemic bias that shaped their wartime experience. Yet, they served with distinction, contributing crucially to their vessel’s operations despite the discrimination they faced.

David Walker’s name is engraved on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl, where a rosette will soon be placed to signify that he has been accounted for. His scheduled burial at Arlington National Cemetery on September 5, 2024, offers a poignant bookend to a chapter that has remained open for too long for many families.

A forthcoming burial at Arlington

David Walker’s upcoming interment is not just an act of remembrance but a reiteration of the nation's commitment to acknowledging every serviceman and woman’s sacrifice, irrespective of the eras of injustice that may have overshadowed their contributions.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which claimed the lives of 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, and wrought devastation on the U.S. naval fleet, remains a sobering reminder of the price of freedom. Walker's identification and forthcoming burial serve as a testament to the enduring effort to heal the wounds of the past.


In the wake of the recovery and identification of David Walker's remains, we are reminded of the personal stories of bravery and sacrifice behind historical events. The identification symbolizes a long-awaited closure for Walker's family and highlights the racial challenges African American servicemen faced. Walker's engraving on the Walls of the Missing will soon be marked with a rosette, symbolizing his reclamation from anonymity.

His burial in Arlington National Cemetery will finally honor his service and sacrifice in a manner befitting a hero, acknowledging the contributions of African American sailors in the U.S. Navy during a time of segregation and discrimination. As we remember Walker, we also remember all those who have served and continue to serve, their legacies forever embedded in the fabric of our history.

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