PHOENIX — A Phoenix sailor killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor returned home Tuesday nearly 80 years after his death.
Carl Johnson's remains were flown from Honolulu to Phoenix Sky Harbor. About 20 family members welcomed back the young sailor at the airport.
Sue Robinson's mother was Carl Johnson's older sister. She said it was a moment they had been waiting for.
"It was one of the most amazing, beautiful, spiritual experiences to see the plane come in, to see the casket. I don't have words for it, it was incredible," said Robinson.
Johnson was only 16 when he enlisted in the Navy and left Phoenix. He was a Seaman 1st Class and worked with the big turret guns aboard the USS West Virginia. He wrote to his parents back in Arizona every week.
"You could see from his letters that he was really learning, growing, developing and progressing in his service in the Navy," said his nephew Dr. Carl Robert Dahl, who was named after him.
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. Johnson was 18 years old.
Scientists were able to positively identify him in August 2019 using DNA and dental records. For generations, his family has been sharing stories and photographs of him.
"He was a part of our life even though we never met him," said Katie Judy, his great-niece. "He's a wonderful patriot and I'm grateful for that example."
"He was just so loved by his family and so missed, that they relayed that to us, so we felt the same way," said Robinson.
Tuesday -- as his casket arrived and was escorted to the funeral home -- the family said they felt grateful and humbled to finally get some closure and have him back where he belongs.
"It's just an absolute emotion that's almost beyond description to be able to have him return home and to answer the prayers of his parents that they were able to have their home back home," said Dr. Dahl.
Johnson will be buried Friday in Phoenix at the same place his parents, and other family members have been laid to rest. There will be a graveside service with full military honors.