Ray Emory: A Pearl Harbor survivor’s legacy

Chief Ray Emory at sea, 1945

Bill Doughty

Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

(Editor’s note: This story was published Dec. 8, 2012 in the Ho’okele newspaper. In honor of his legacy, we pay tribute to Ray Emory’s service, honor and heroism. Emory passed away Aug. 20 at the age of 97.)

Ray Emory is a tough guy. Seventy-one years ago aboard USS Honolulu (CL 48) – without waiting for permission or orders – he responded to the attack of Dec. 7, 1941 by rushing to one of the ship’s 50-calibre machine guns, helping break into a locked box of ammunition, and opening fire on attacking enemy planes.

Ray Emory is a tough guy who cares about former shipmates. He champions the full identification, where possible, of “unknowns” – service members killed on that “Day of Infamy” who were buried in unnamed graves. He’s been described as tenacious, brusque, even intimidating. He’s tough when it comes to historical accuracy, full accounting and helping military families.

But when talk turns to his childhood and life just before the Navy, his toughness cracks a bit.

Ray Emory was a child of the Great Depression. He grew up in a simpler time, a time of relative innocence, but a time in the early 1930s of general hunger and lack of work.

“No way can I describe the Depression,” Emory said, speaking to his close friend Jim Taylor, Navy Region Hawaii’s volunteer liaison for Pearl Harbor survivors. Ray’s eyes cloud. His voice softens and deepens.

“When the Depression hit, my mother and dad didn’t have a penny. There were seven of us and an eighth on the way,” he remembered.

His dad lost his leg in a hunting accident.

At the age of 10, Ray got on his old bicycle and sold newspapers.

“Every penny I made went to supporting the family,” he said.

The Depression slammed the United States after the stock market crashed in 1929. Unemployment rose from 3.2 percent in 1929 to 26.7 percent by 1934. The boom of the 1920s, when Peoria sparkled with new jazz, “flappers” and soda fountain parlors, turned to a bust along with the rest of the nation.

Exports shut down as markets and cash flow disappeared and the impact continued to spread. Worldwide depression planted seeds of fascism and ultra-nationalism in Germany and Japan, leading to social unrest, assassinations and acts of regional terrorism.

In Asia, Imperial Japan turned to Manchuria for raw materials and coal liquefaction facilities. By the end of the 30s, the emboldened Japanese military set its sights on Indochina for oil imports and colonization.

Back in Peoria in the early 1930s, Emory continued working throughout his early school years, including a stint at the A&P grocery store, before he considered the Navy.

Meanwhile, the effects of the Depression continued to transform the world.

The peace and prosperity of the 1920s after World War I had given way to open hate, fear and warfare in Europe and Asia in the 30s. Germany and Japan embraced militarism and territorial expansion.

“The war in Europe was getting hot,” Emory remembered. “They were about to pass the draft law. I swung by the post office and talked to the Navy recruiter.”

“When I got home – I can still see it. My dad was reading the newspaper, and my mother was darning socks. I told them, ‘I joined the Navy today.’ My dad put down his newspaper and said, ‘You did what?!'”

Ray first served aboard the light cruiser USS Savannah (CL 42). He still has an original menu from 1941 – beans and cornbread twice a week. It cost the Navy 46 cents per day to feed Sailors then.

Savannah headed through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific in 1939, arriving in Pearl Harbor. Emory knew how he wanted to serve.

“I asked young Ensign Burgan if I could become a gun striker,” Ray reflected.

Burgan had a lasting effect on Ray. “I told him once ‘I can’t do something.’ He made me sit down,” Emory said. “That ensign told me, ‘The word can’t — it’s not in the dictionary.'”

Ray began two weeks of training at Fort Weaver, but USS Savannah left for the Atlantic without him, so he ended up aboard another light cruiser in Pearl Harbor, USS Honolulu (CL 48) — which is where he was on Dec. 7, 1941.

In the months leading up to Dec. 7, the United States enforced an embargo on Japan’s importation of oil, leading to a total embargo on all goods except cotton and food. America joined other countries and took a strong stand against Japan for its incursions into China and Southeast Asia.

Ray Emory was aware of the storm clouds of war growing but was still caught completely by surprise when the attacks came on Dec. 7.

“I was sitting at my bunk reading the morning newspaper at the time General Quarters sounded,” Ray said. “I thought, ‘This was a hell of a time to be sounding GQ.’ The 4-to-8 watch was still eating breakfast.”

He hurriedly folded his newspaper and stuck it under his bunk straps.

“I hit the ladder in about two steps,” Ray remembered. “When topside, I heard machine gun fire. My thought was, ‘This is a really good drill.'”

Ray raced to his battle station — the .50-caliber machine guns.

“I had pulled the canvas cover off of one of the machine guns and about halfway off the second machine gun when a torpedo plane passed our fan-tail. I stopped pulling the cover off and watched the track of the torpedo that hit one of the battleships. Again, in my mind, the torpedo was not supposed to explode like that (if it was a drill). In seconds, another torpedo plane passed our fantail and I saw the big red ball.”

At that moment, Ray knew the attack was real. The attacking planes were Imperial Japanese.

“My thoughts were, ‘Who declared war on whom and where did they come from to get here so fast.”

He continued following his training and instincts.

“Upon breaking the ammo box open, the machine guns were manned,” Emory said. “Anything that was close enough to fire at we fired, but who knows who hit who.”

Ray continued to fight that day and in the months and years that followed.

He participated in engagements in the Aleutians, Solomons, Battle of Tassafaronga and consolidation of the Southern Solomons. He served in seven invasions across the Pacific: Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, Leyte Gulf, Lingayen Gulf, Iwo Jima. He also participated in the atmospheric nuclear tests in Bikini Atoll in 1946.

Ray Emory left the Navy that same year as a chief boatswain’s mate, though he’d earlier been recommended for a commission as an ensign. At the time, he declined because he didn’t want to leave his ship.

After the war Ray went back to school, attending Bradley University and the University of Washington, where he received his degree in architecture. He worked in mechanical engineering and construction in the Pacific Northwest until he retired.

Emory returned to Hawaii in the mid 1980s and married his wife Virginia. Since then he has rededicated himself to accurate documentation of what happened at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and to the proper accounting of shipmates killed on that day.

Matching burial records with dental records and, where available, DNA, Emory has worked with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and others to identify or help identify former “unknowns.” He has brought closure and peace to families: Hembree, Lehman, Livingston, Vanderpool and others.

Ray Emory is a tough guy with a tender side, devoted to the memory of shipmates and innocence lost. He survived the Great Depression and the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he helped win a lasting peace in the Pacific.

“There hasn’t been a day gone by in my life that I haven’t thought of Dec. 7, in one way or another, including today,” he said.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • RSS

Category: News