History Wars World War II

Remains of sailor killed in Pearl Harbor attack identified

David Walker was one of 103 crewmembers who died on the USS California on Dec. 7, 1941.
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Mess Attendant 3rd Class David Walker (photo courtesy DPAA)

A Navy sailor who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor has finally been identified. David Walker was serving on the battleship the USS California when the Imperial Japanese forces launched their surprise attack on the naval base. Walker was declared missing and then eventually presumed dead, one of the more than 2,000 Americans killed on Dec. 7, 1941. Now, 83 years later, the military has confirmed the identity of his remains.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the military agency focused on tracking down and identifying missing service members, verified Walker’s remains on Nov. 27, 2023. However, the DPAA only announced the finding on Thursday, March 28.

Walker was serving as a Mess Attendant Third Class aboard Walker the Tennessee-class battleship USS California. When Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, the California took two torpedo hits as well as a direct hit from a bomb. 103 crewmembers died, including Walker. The ship eventually flooded and sank, but only three days after the attack. Salvage operations refloated the USS California and the Navy was able to remove human remains from it, but many were unidentified and buried as “unknowns” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii, also known as the Punchbowl.

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Walker was a native of Norfolk, Virginia. According to a newspaper article shared by DPAA with its announcement, Walker joined the military in 1941. He left school to join the Navy. His mother, Edna Lee Ward, learned of his MIA status on January 2, 1942, nearly a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Ward later asked the local paper to run his photo, not immediately sharing that he had died. When she did, his obituary ran, and another article about her request said that “Disclosure of her son’s death in action at Pearl Harbor on December 7 is surely news, although she did not define it as such. David Walker died a hero, as history will disclose.”

It wasn’t until 2018 that the 25 sets of remains from the USS California were exhumed and put through testing to identify them. DPAA staff used dental records and even mitochondrial DNA analysis to determine who the people were.

As with other missing and presumed dead military personnel, Walker’s name is on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Now that his remains have been identified, a rosette will be marked next to his name, to show that he has since been found. 

More than eight decades after his death, David Walker will get a new funeral, this time on Sept. 5 at Arlington National Cemetery in his home state of Virginia.

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