As of January 25, 2015 the US military acknowledges that there are 73,515 military service personnel missing or “not recovered” from WW2.
That large number of unrecovered soldiers is shrinking thanks to History Flight Inc, a US Charity and the Department of Defense. According to this recent Yahoo news article, the remains of 36 United States Marines were found on Betio Island in Kiribati. The discovery came during a four month long excavation.
Mark Noah, director of History Flight Inc, said of the Marines, “They had an expectation that if they were to die in the line of duty defending their country they would be brought home... that was a promise made 70 years ago that we felt should be kept”.
The 36 Marines had been killed by enemy fire during the Battle of Tarawa in 1943. It was the first American offensive in the central Pacific region. The Marines faced a fierce resistance from the Japanese army. The Japanese had approximately 4,500 well-supplied soldiers that fought to the last man. When the intense 76 hour battle ended and the Island was claimed for the United States, over 4,500 enemy troops were dead. More than 1,000 US Marines were dead and over 2,000 wounded.
The brave Marines are finally coming home, 73 years after their ultimate sacrifice. The remains will be returned to the United States this month and will be identified using DNA analysis and dental records. Once identified, the remains will be turned over to their family members for a proper burial.
The story doesn’t end with these 36 Marines. “There is a lot of work to be done on the island”, Mark said. According to him there are still the remains of several hundred US soldiers in makeshift, unmarked graves who had been hastily buried after the battle.