World War II Sailor Who Died at Pearl Harbor Returned to Family, Buried After 80 Years

by Amy Myers

On December 7, 1941, the U.S.S. Oklahoma was victim to an aircraft attack at Pearl Harbor. More than 400 men aboard lost their lives, and among them was World War II sailor, Leaman R. Dill. For 80 years, Dill’s remains lay in one of the 46 unmarked plots, known as the Punchbowl, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. Now, thanks to the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), Dill’s remains have finally come home to South Dakota.

Born in 1916, Leaman Dill grew up in Bancroft, South Dakota. Instead of graduating high school, Dill instead decided to enlist in the Navy and attended Wind Cave National Park for training. Once completed, the World War II sailor shipped out for duty before eventually landing at Pearl Harbor. According to his niece, Marilynn Axt, Dill enjoyed every moment of his service, even up until the day before he died at just 25 years old.

“I have a Christmas card that my parents received from him. It was mailed on Dec. 6, 1941,” Axt shared with Rapid City Journal. “I still have that and I have the telegrams that reported he was missing in action, and then three months later another telegram that said he was presumed dead.”

Axt and her brother, David Dill, are the World War II sailor’s only surviving kin.

“We wish our father (Leaman’s brother) could have seen it and been present for it” Axt added. “It’s just been an incredible journey that we never thought we would see.”

Dill obtained the rank of U.S. Navy Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class before the Pearl Harbor attack.

DPAA Exhumes World War II Sailor Remains to Identify Bodies

Following the tragedy, in 1947, the American Graves Registration Service gathered the remains of the brave men who lost their lives from two separate cemeteries. Members then transported them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks for identification. Unfortunately, the lab could only confirm 35 men’s names aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma. The rest proceeded to the Punchbowl, where the World War II sailors would stay for the next 68 years.

Six years ago, in 2015, members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency decided that this was long enough. In an effort to give closure to surviving families and honor those who passed, the DPAA exhumed the remains from the Punchbowl for re-analysis. Once they gathered the remains, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome DNA analysis to begin identifying the names of previously-deemed MIA World War II sailors. Thankfully, one of those names was Leaman Dill.

“The Navy has been amazing to work with and has been so helpful,” Axt shared. “It’s been stressful and tearful, but it’s been quite a journey.”

“He’s back home in South Dakota,” her brother, David Dill, added.