DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — As the nation honors its veterans this weekend, a central Illinois sailor received a homecoming 80 years in the making.
Electrician’s Mate 1st Class Edward Conway, born in Auburn, was one of approximately 2,400 Americans who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It was only recently, however, that Conway’s remains were identified and repatriated. He was buried with military honors in Decatur on Saturday.
Navy records indicate that Conway was born on Sept. 1, 1912, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 21. He trained in San Diego before receiving his first assignment abord a destroyer in 1934. He became a fireman later that year and an electrician in 1935.
Conway transfered from ship to ship over the next few years. In 1940, shortly after his promotion to Electrician’s Mate 1st Class, Conway reported for duty at Pearl Harbor was was soon assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma. It was aboard Oklahoma that Conway would lose his life the following year at the age of 29.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Oklahoma was moored in Pearl Harbor when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched an air raid on the base and the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Oklahoma was targeted by torpedoes, sustained several hits, and quickly capsized due to flooding. 429 men, including Conway, went down with their ship.
Only 41 of those men were identified when their bodies were recovered from the wreck. The other 388, inclduing Conway, were classified as nonrecoverable and were buried as unknowns in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, nicknamed the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. They remained there for almost 75 years.
2015 marked the inaugural year of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a Department of Defense agency dedicated to recovering American personnel listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from previous wars. One of its first projects was to identify the unknowns of Oklahoma.
The 388 men were exhumed from the Punchbowl and analysed using DNA samples submitted by Oklahoma families. Using this method and refering to Navy medical and dental records, DPAA personnel identified Conway’s remains in October of 2021. His family was notified a year later.
Captain Robert McMahon, Director of the Navy Casualty Office, said that the DPAA has identified 355 unknowns from Oklahoma since the project started. 33 sailors could not be identified and were reburied in the Punchbowl on Dec. 7, 2021, the 80th anniversary of the attack.
The success of the Oklahoma project led the DPAA to expand its work to other ships at Pearl Harbor the morning of the attack. That expansion resulted in the identification of a sailor from Moccasin.