Bismarck News

Remains of Wilton sailor killed in Pearl Harbor attack identified, to be buried

Through painstaking DNA analysis and forensic detective work, the remains of a Wilton, ND man killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor more than 70 years ago have been identified, and the sailor will be buried with honors later this month. 

Navy Radioman 2nd Class Walter H. Backman was serving on the U.S.S. Oklahoma when Japanese aircraft began a surprise attack on American military ships moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. 

The Oklahoma was hit by several torpedoes dropped by the attacking planes, causing the battleship to quickly capsize. In all, 429 men aboard the ship were killed, including Backman. 

He was 22 years old. 

In North Dakota newspaper accounts months later, it was reported that, a few hours after Backman's parents were officially notified their son died in the attack, Christmas cards they had earlier mailed to Backman were returned with the message, "Missing – unclaimed." 

After the attack and over the next three years, the Navy recovered the remains of those who died on the ship. The unidentified remains were ultimately buried in plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the "Punchbowl," in Honolulu.  

In 2015, the Defense Department ordered the unidentified remains to be disinterred and evaluated for identification purposes using the latest DNA technology. 

In 2017, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System identified Backman's remains. 

He will be buried will full military honors May 28 in Batavia, IL. 

Backman's parents, identified only as Mr. and Mrs. A.F. Backman, moved from Wilton to Aurora, IL, around 1940. 

Walter Backman enlisted in the Navy in 1938. 

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the conflict.  Currently there are 72,917 service members still unaccounted for from the war, with 26,000 estimated that may be identifiable through DNA and other lab testing. 

For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving the country, visit the DPAA website at




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