Serviceman to be laid to rest in Massachusetts more than 80 years after his death at Pearl Harbor

Eight decades after he died during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, a Massachusetts navyman will finally be laid to rest in his hometown.

The town of Chatham announced Thursday that Gov. Maura Healey ordered the American flag and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts flag to fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset in honor of Petty Officer Second Class Merle Chester Joseph Hillman, who was 25 at the time of the attack.

Hillman was onboard the USS California on December 7, 1941, when two torpedoes and a bomb struck the ship during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is part of the US Department of Defense.

The ship slowly sank over the next three days, claiming the lives of over 100 sailors and Marines.

According to the agency, Hillman’s remains, although unidentified, were recovered after the attack, and he was given an anonymous burial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

In 2018, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed 25 unknown remains associated with the ship, according to a news release.

Officials said scientists from the agency and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used techniques, including anthropological and mitochondrial DNA analysis, to identify Hillman’s remains.

Hillman, a pharmacist, had served in the US Navy for six years at the time of his death, according to an article included in the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s news release.

Hillman was identified on October 20, 2023, and will be buried on Saturday.

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