Remains of 'unknown' Korean War casualty ID'd, returned to U.S.
The remains of the first unknown serviceman from the Korean War have been identified and returned to his family, the Defense Department announced in a news release Wednesday.
Marine Pfc. Ronald D. Lilledahl of Minneapolis was one of two Korean War “unknowns” the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii exhumed from a national cemetery in 1999.
It’s believed Lilledahl died on Nov. 28, 1950, when Chinese forces surrounded his unit, Company C of the 7th Marines, on the west side of the Chosin Reservoir and cut it off from supporting units.
During a seesaw battle throughout the day, Lilledahl reportedly was struck and killed by enemy fire and buried in a shallow grave, according to DOD officials.
In the ensuing withdrawal, Company C was unable to retrieve all of its dead, including Lilledahl.
Following the armistice, the North Korean government returned remains believed to be those of U.S. servicemen, but limitations in forensic technology made it impossible to identify more than 800. They were interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific — known as the Punchbowl — as “unknowns.”
In 1999, CILHI exhumed two of the unknown sets — including the remains of Lilledahl. Then, between 1999 and 2002, CILHI scientists submitted 10 bone or dental samples to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, but no usable mitochondrial DNA data could be extracted from the remains.
CILHI broadened its search effort and uncovered a postage stamp-sized chest X-ray in Lilledahl’s medical records at the National Personnel Records Center. Scientists there enlarged it numerous times and were able to show strong consistency with the remains.
The final piece of evidence confirming Lilledahl’s identity came from a computer program recently developed by CILHI, which allows scientists to compare dental remains to a vast database of almost 40,000 patterns seen in the United States.
Those belonging to Lilledahl were unique among the entire database, lending tremendous weight to the match’s significance, said the DOD release.
Annual negotiations led by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office since 1996 have enabled CILHI teams to conduct 25 operations in North Korea, recovering what may be 178 remains of Americans.
More than 8,100 are still missing in action from the Korean War.