After 80 years, South Dakota sailor killed in Pearl Harbor finally returns home

BLACK HILLS NATIONAL CEMETERY, SD – A sailor who died eighty years ago in the attack on Pearl Harbor finally returned home to South Dakota in a ceremony Monday.

“That changed everything – December 7, 1941,” says retired Army / VA Chaplain Herbert B. Cleveland.

More than 2,000 servicemen died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – many of them buried in sunken or salvaged ships – but unidentified for decades.

Marine Electrician Mate Second Class Leaman R. Dill

A man – whose remains were buried unnamed in Hawaii – was eventually identified and returned home to South Dakota.

Of 25-year-old Navy Electricians, Journeyman Second Class Leaman R. Dill – born in Bancroft, SD and raised in Huron – enlisted in the Navy when he was just 22 years old.

Dill died at Pearl Harbor while serving aboard the USS Oklahoma, which suffered several torpedoes before capsizing, killing Dill and 428 other crew members.

“I have a Christmas card my parents received from him… and it was mailed on December 6, 1941,” says Marilynn Axt, Dill’s niece.

Navy personnel spent years recovering the remains of the crew – only 35 of which could be identified in 1947.

The others remained buried in the “Punchbowl” – the Pacific National Memorial Cemetery – classified as “unrecoverable” – until a new effort to identify them began in 2015.

Leaman Dill’s remains were identified earlier this year using DNA analysis, something his family never dreamed of.

“I never thought that would happen… we wish our dad had seen it… that he was there for it,” Axt said.

Dill pays the ultimate price in serving his country – now buried for the last time. A sacrifice honored by tradition and charged with respect.

“The American people place their flag – it is the most precious symbol we have – on the casket to show their thanks and gratitude for the life of the person,” said Chaplain Cleveland.

His name – inscribed on the walls of the Punchbowl in Hawaii – will now bear a rosette – indicating that he has been found.

Almost a century of waiting for a family, which can now move forward.

Axt adds: “Stressful and tearful – it’s been quite a journey. “

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