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Sailor who died at Pearl Harbor laid to rest at Black Hills National Cemetery

2nd Class Leaman R. Dill (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency/Released)

A South Dakota native who was killed aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor has come home to rest after nearly 80 years.

U.S. Navy Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Leaman R. Dill, of Huron, was assigned to battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. He was only 25 at the time of his death.

Two surviving family members, Marilynn Axt, Dill’s niece; and David Dill, his nephew; never knew their uncle but had the opportunity to say their final goodbye Monday at Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis.

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

“He’s back home in South Dakota,” David Dill said.

Leaman Dill was born in Bancroft on June 16, 1916 and then later moved to Huron. Leaman didn’t graduate high school, David said, but decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy at a recruiting station in Deadwood. Leaman trained at a camp near Wind Cave National Park before shipping out for service. He was eventually assigned to the U.S.S. Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.

Even up to the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Axt said Leaman was enjoying his time in the Navy and would write to his family.

“I have a Christmas card that my parents received from him. It was mailed on Dec. 6, 1941,” Axt said. “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.”

On Dec. 7, the U.S.S. Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Leaman Dill.

According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, from December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries.

In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. The laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the U.S.S. Oklahoma at that time.

The unidentified remains were buried in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Dill.

Between June and November 2015, personnel from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed the U.S.S. Oklahoma Unknowns from the Punchbowl for analysis.

To identify Dill’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome DNA analysis.

Axt said helping to identify Leaman’s remains was a family undertaking.

“Several years ago, my two brothers sent their DNA in and, evidently, they traced it more to the maternal side of the family, and it ended up coming to me,” Axt said. “The Navy has been amazing to work with and has been so helpful. It’s been stressful and tearful, but it’s been quite a journey.”

Leaman’s remains were transported back to South Dakota. On Monday, he received full military rites at Black Hills National Cemetery. He will be interred where his once empty, white tombstone is located at the cemetery.

“I came in here once with my mom and dad because there is a marker for Leaman that was put in there in about 1959, I believe,” David Dill said. “I’ve stopped here a couple of other times and I was just in here in April and visited his headstone for a few minutes and moved on up the road, not knowing that any of this was going to happen. So, this is a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

Leaman Dill’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing from World War II. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

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(c) 2021 Rapid City Journal

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