Sailor killed in attack on Pearl Harbor buried with full military honors in Holyoke

HOLYOKE, Mass — A soldier who was killed in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was buried in his hometown of Holyoke with full military honors Saturday.

Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class Merle Hillman died aboard the USS California during the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. His unidentified remains were laid at the National Memorial Cemetary of the Pacific in Honolulu as his family back in the Bay State searched for answers.

Modern technology allowed Hillman to be identified so that he could be buried in St. Jerome Cemetery in Holyoke on Saturday.

On Oct. 20, 2023, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified the remains of Hillman.

Hillman entered the U.S. Navy from California and served aboard the Tennessee-class battleship USS California, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese carrier-based aircraft launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base and ships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

In the early minutes of the attack, the USS California was hit by two torpedoes, which pierced the ship’s port side, and a bomb, which struck the ship’s upper deck, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The ship sustained significant damage, and over 100 sailor and Marine lives were lost in the attack.

While counter-flooding efforts kept the California upright, the ship slowly sank over the next three days, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Several months later, in late March and early April, the California was raised and floated to dry dock for repair.

Remains were removed from the ship in the weeks following the attack and during Navy salvage operations in early 1942, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Although some were identified, many were later buried as Unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 2018, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began to exhume unknown remains associated with the USS California and reexamine them using advances in forensic technology. Laboratory analysis and evidence available established one set of these remains as those of Hillman, officials said.

Hillman is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW