ALBANY, N.Y. — The Pentagon is launching efforts to solve a baffling World War II mystery: whether dozens of U.S. sailors listed as missing from a ship disaster were actually recovered and buried all along as unknowns in a New York cemetery.

More than 130 victims of the USS Turner’s 1944 explosion and sinking near New York Harbor are still officially missing. But World War II researcher Ted Darcy found papers last year indicating at least four of them were buried as unknowns in a Long Island military cemetery. He believes the rest could be there, too.

After the Associated Press initially reported Darcy’s findings in November, the Pentagon office responsible for recovering and identifying the nation’s war dead said only that the records that could confirm exactly how many of the Turner’s sailors are buried in the cemetery were missing.

But in recent days, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said it is now “taking the steps to send out inquiries and conduct archival research” to try to locate the files associated with the Turner unknowns buried in the cemetery in Farmingdale on Long Island.

Darcy and loved ones of the missing crew members hope that the records could be found, identifications made and that the long-lost remains of the Turner be reburied in marked gravesites with full military honors.

“I’d like to see if we can have closure on this, find out who’s in the graves,” said Richard Duffy, a 61-year-old retired mechanic from Ballston Spa, New York, who was named after his fallen uncle.

The Turner, a 10-month-old Navy destroyer, sank off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, after a series of internal explosions on Jan. 3, 1944. The Navy never determined what caused the initial blast, but an inquiry found that munitions were being handled below deck around the time of the first explosion. Half of the nearly 300 men on board survived, but scores of others were killed and listed as missing. Some remains were recovered from the sunken wreckage during the yearlong salvage operation, but an exact number remains unknown.

Margaret Duffy Sickles was not quite 5 years old when her family in Whitehall, New York, received word that her brother, 18-year-old Fireman 1st Class Richard Duffy, was among the missing. After reading the AP story in November, she sought the help of New York’s congressional delegation, hoping it could persuade the Pentagon to try to identify the remains buried on Long Island.

“I will work with the families to cut through red tape and ensure that the Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency does everything it can to try to properly identify these brave Americans,” said U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a Democrat.

According to Darcy, a retired career Marine from Locust Grove, Virginia, who specializes in MIA cases, the agency hasn’t done enough for the fallen Turner sailors.

“These guys died for their country,” he said. “They deserve to be buried properly and the families deserve the closure.”