After 80 years, a South Dakota sailor killed at Pearl Harbor finally comes home

BLACK HILLS NATIONAL CEMETERY, S.D. — A sailor who lost his life eighty years ago during the Pearl Harbor attack finally returned home to South Dakota in a ceremony Monday.

“It changed everything – December 7th, 1941,” says retired Army/V.A. Chaplain Herbert B. Cleveland.

More than 2,000 service members died during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – many of them entombed in the sunken ships, or recovered – but unidentified for decades.

Dill Photo

Navy Electrician’s Mate Second Class Leaman R. Dill

One man – whose remains were buried in Hawaii without a name – now finally identified and returned home to South Dakota.

25-year-old Navy electricians mate second-class Leaman R. Dill – born in Bancroft, S.D., and raised in Huron – enlisted in the Navy when he was just 22.

Dill died at Pearl Harbor while serving aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma, which sustained multiple torpedo hits before capsizing,  killing Dill and 428 other crewmen.

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

Navy personnel spent years recovering the crew’s remains – only 35 of which were able to be identified in 1947.

The rest remained interred in the “Punchbowl” – the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific – classified as “non-recoverable” – until a new effort to identify them began in 2015.

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

“Never thought it would happen…we wish our father could have seen it…been present for it,” Axt says.

Dill paying the ultimate price in service of his country – now laid to rest for the final time. A sacrifice honored with tradition and laden with respect.

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

His name – recorded on the walls of the Punchbowl in Hawaii – will now bear a rosette – indicating he’s been accounted for.

Nearly a century of waiting for one family, who can now move forward.

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

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