HONOLULU, Hawaii (CNN) -- The remains of more than 20 U.S. service members have gone unidentified for years. But now, a Pearl Harbor survivor and historian believes he may have the answer.

There are three graves in section P at Punchbowl that are his focus: grave 0989, 1001, and 1003.

Pearl Harbor historian and survivor Ray Emory spent years collecting, cross-checking, and collating documents to try to determine who is buried in the graves marked "unknown." He said, "Every of those graves has got a story to tell. Really. And it's sad to what they did as far as grave markers."

He requested and received stacks of paperwork from government offices. He built a paper trail of sailors listed as missing from the USS Oklahoma when it sank during the Pearl Harbor attack.

He believes they are the 21 buried in five caskets in the three graves. He said, "...but all those families were told the bodies were never recovered to start with."

Fifteen U.S. senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging him to order the JPAC Central Identification Lab to exhume the caskets and identify the remains.

Relatives of Fireman Third Class Edwin Hopkins think he is in one of those graves. Emery said, "We're gonna wait and see what the Secretary of Defense does with this, and if they want to go ahead and complete this project, then I can't think of anything better."

Over the years, Emory has contacted the families of the 21 men he has researched. Some sent him photographs and clippings so he can put faces to facts.

When asked how confident he is that he is right, he replies without a doubt, "A thousand percent."

Emory built a file for each one of the 21 sailors. To him they are names not just numbers and they are known by more than a word on a grave marker.

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