The remains of a Korean War U.S. Marine buried as an "unknown" have been identified and returned to his family. He is Pfc. Ronald D. Lilledahl of Minneapolis, Minn. This marks the first unknown serviceman from the Korean War to be identified.
On Nov. 28, 1950, Lilledahl's unit, Company C of the 7th Marines, was surrounded by Chinese forces on the west side of the Chosin Reservoir and cut 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. In the ensuing withdrawal, C Company 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 forensic technology at the time was unable to make positive identifications on more than 800 of those. They were interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as The Punchbowl, as "unknowns."
In 1999, the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI) exhumed two of the Korean War unknowns for the purpose of possible identification. 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.
Broadening their search effort, CILHI researchers uncovered a postage-stamp sized chest x-ray in Lilledahl's medical records at the National Personnel Records Center. The scientific staff enlarged it many times and was able to show very strong consistency with the remains. The final piece of evidence confirming his identity came from a new computer program recently developed by CILHI, which allows scientists to compare dental remains to a vast database of almost 40,000 dental patterns seen in the U.S. Lilledahl's were unique among the entire database, lending tremendous weight to the significance of the match.
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.