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Phoenix sailor killed in Pearl Harbor attack will return home nearly 80 years later

Posted at 2:30 PM, Dec 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-24 20:54:43-05

Nearly 80 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, an Arizona family finally has some closure. A sailor from Phoenix killed in that attack has been identified and his remains will be brought home next month.

Carl Johnson was 16-years-old when he enlisted in the Navy. He left North Phoenix High School -- lied about his age --and started working aboard the USS West Virginia. He was promoted to Seaman 1st Class and was studying to become a gunner's mate and petty officer.

Dr. Carl Dahl, his nephew, was named after him. He knows about Johnson's time in the Navy because he wrote to his parents in Arizona every week.

"You can tell from his letters he really enjoyed and really liked the work he had in the Navy," he said. "You could clearly see he was making progress in the Navy."

Johnson worked on the powder train and his job was to deliver powder to the big turret guns. Dr. Dahl said if the ship were to be under attack, his job was to flood the powder so the ship wouldn't blow up if struck.

"He did his job, he did what needed to be done in the very onset of America's involvement in World War II."

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, catching the U.S. Navy off guard.

The West Virginia was struck by multiple torpedoes and eventually sank. More than 100 crewmen died.

"What a brave man he was, no question about it. And a good man," said Dr. Dahl.

Johnson's father kept a journal and wrote about the attack. When he learned his son was missing and presumed dead, he wrote "My how we suffer. I have had some hard blows but this got me down. I feel the bottom dropped out."

"It was just devastating, became very depressed. Just felt like there wasn't much to live for at this point," said Dr. Dahl.

Scientists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency were able to positively identify Johnson in August 2019 using his remains. Dr. Dahl said they recovered his skull, mandible and almost all of his teeth.

They used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA from Johnson's occipital bone (back of the skull) to match DNA from one of his nephews.

"It really makes us feel grateful and actually quite honored to be able to accomplish that which his father and his mother and siblings had always hoped that would come about," said Dr. Dahl.

Johnson will return to Phoenix in January.

He'll have a graveside service on January 15 with full military honors. He'll be laid to rest next to his parents and siblings.

Johnson's name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl in Honolulu, 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.