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Body of Pearl Harbor sailor identified

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U.S. Navy
Pearl Harbor

HONOLULU, Hawaii (Reuters) -- One elderly sister called it a miracle and another said she had finally found closure after the body of their brother, a sailor killed at Pearl Harbor 62 years ago, was identified.

Thelma Blanton and her sister, Flora Mae Young, were told the news Monday in Young's Leavenworth, Kansas, home by U.S. Navy officials.

In telephone interviews, the two sisters said they sat speechless as the officials explained how the remains of Fireman 2nd Class Payton L. Vanderpool Jr. had been located, disinterred and positively identified as the brother who died on December 7, 1941.

Vanderpool is the second "unknown" Pearl Harbor casualty ever identified.

Afterward, Blanton, 76, called the news "unreal" again and again. She was in high school when she last saw the brother everyone called "P.L."

"I just can't imagine this happening in my lifetime," said Blanton, who lives in Kansas City, Kansas. "I am still in awe of it all. It is just a miracle to me."

Young, 81, said that before Monday, she never truly understood what grieving families meant when they spoke of closure. Now she knows.

"I hadn't felt that until today," she said after the Navy briefing ended. "I'd say that is how we all feel."

Vanderpool will be buried in the family plot in Braymer, Missouri, beside his parents. The date and time -- 1 p.m. December 7.

Military officials disinterred Vanderpool's remains in June from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu after an 82-year-old survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ray Emory, convinced them he had gathered enough documents to prove who was in grave Q-179.

That evidence, combined with dental records, a photograph of Vanderpool, historical data and the sailor's physical description led to the identification, Navy Capt. John Lewis Jr., a forensic odontologist at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command said in a telephone interview.

Vanderpool was 22 and assigned to the USS Pennsylvania, which was in drydock during the attack. Records show he was sitting on the pier when the bombs began to fall, said Emory, who lives in Honolulu.

Emory, who serves as the national historian for the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, said Vanderpool's personnel file stated that he was conscious when an ambulance took him away.

That was the last time anyone saw the sailor from Lawson, Missouri.

Emory has made identifying "unknowns" his personal crusade. It was his research that led to the identification in November 2001 of the first Pearl Harbor "unknown," Apprentice Seaman Thomas Hembree.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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