Unknown Sailor

S1c Elmer Marvin Dunham

Elmer Marvin Dunham found God in the Navy.

Mr. Dunham described his faith in a letter to a neighbor, Mrs. Hopkins, back home in Fresno, California, less than two weeks before he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. He was a seaman first class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he died.

“… no matter what we have to go through, the Lord will always take care of us,” Mr. Dunham wrote. “I can see that here in the Navy. It is a hard life but God hasn’t failed me yet and we all know he won’t as long as we stay in his love. When I was saved, I was saved here in the Navy. I mean I was born again. That’s the most important thing is being born again. There are about eight of us on this ship of 1,700 men that are really born again and have given up everything for the Lord. The boys all the time think that there is something wrong with us but that makes us feel all the better because if they didn’t say nothing against us, there would be something wrong with us.”

Addressing Mrs. Hopkins’s sons, he added: “All I want to tell the boys is that as they get older and go out into the world, always trust in God and he will take care of them.”

Elmer Marvin Dunham was born March 7, 1920. By the time of the spring 1940 Census he had completed two years of high school and was an apprentice at the mill where his father worked.

Theirs were good jobs by the standards of the Great Depression, but the Fresno, California, family was large — seven of Robert Dunham and Alma Harper Dunham’s 10 children were still at home. So Elmer enlisted in July 1940 as a way to help financially, his youngest sister, Doris, recalled years later.

A younger brother, Roland, also enlisted in the Navy as soon as he graduated from high school in the spring of 1941. He’d worked as a teen, too — as a laborer at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Roland, an electrician, was killed in May 1942 when the U.S.S. Sims, a destroyer, was bombed, exploded, and sank in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Their sister Doris, who was a young child when they died, said her mother never liked Elvis Presley or his music until he put on a concert in 1961 to raise money for construction of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. “Then she was his biggest fan,” remembered Doris, who visited the memorial in 1986.

Sources: Special thanks to Doris Dunham Eckhardt for sharing her memories and the photo, which shows Roland on the left and Elmer on the right. Special thanks, also, to a great nephew, Adam Bow, for sharing M. Dunham’s letter. Other sources include the Fresno Bee Republican; Census; Navy muster rolls; California birth index. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.
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