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News Release

Press Release | Jan. 18, 2024

Sailor Accounted for from USS California (Hillman, M.)

Washington D.C.  –  

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class (PhM2c) Merle C. J. Hillman, 25, of Holyoke, Massachusetts, killed during World War II, was accounted for on October 20, 2023.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Hillman was assigned to the battleship USS California, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The USS California sustained multiple torpedo and bomb hits, which caused it catch fire and slowly flood. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 104 crewmen, including Hillman. 

From December 1941 to April 1942, 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 (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. In addition to the 42 casualties from the USS California initially identified after the attack, the laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 39 men from the USS California at that time. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified the remains of the unresolved crew members, including Hillman, as non-recoverable.

In 2018, DPAA personnel exhumed the 25 USS California Unknowns from the Punchbowl for analysis.

To identify Hillman’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and Y chromosome DNA (Y-STR) analysis.

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

Hillman will be buried on Jan. 27, 2024, in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

For family and funeral information, contact the Navy Service Casualty office at (800) 443-9298.

DPAA is grateful to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of the Navy for their partnership in this mission.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at or find us on social media at or

Hillman’s personnel profile can be viewed at