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Marines’ remains repatriated

Thursday 30 July 2015 | Published in Regional


TARAWA – The remains of 36 American Marines discovered in Kiribati earlier this year have been repatriated to the United States.

A US charity discovered the bodies, which included a Congressional Medal of Honour recipient, at the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific during World War II.

A repatriation ceremony was held in Tarawa on Saturday before the remains arrived in Honolulu.

A group called History Flight recovered the remains from the remote Pacific atoll of Tarawa, the US Marine Corps said.

A ceremony was held Sunday in Pearl Harbor to mark their return to the US.

“I was very pleased to learn of the discovery of the remains of our Marines on the island of Tarawa – one of our most significant and contested battles,” commandant of the Marine Corps, General Joseph Dunford, said.

“This battle demonstrated the indomitable fighting spirit of our Marines.

“It was also the first contested landing against a heavily fortified enemy and a turning point in the development in our amphibious capability.

“The lessons learned at Tarawa paved the way for our success in the Pacific campaign and eventual end to the war.”

The Marines invaded Japanese-held Tarawa Atoll in November 1943 where more than 1000 Americans died and the entire Japanese garrison of 4,800 was wiped out.

Japanese machine gun fire killed scores of marines when their boats got stuck on the reef at low tide during the US amphibious assault. Those who made it to the beach faced brutal hand-to-hand combat.

The US quickly buried the thousands of dead on the tiny atoll. But the graves were soon disturbed as the navy urgently built a landing strip to prepare for an attack on the next Pacific island on their path to Tokyo.

Once identification is complete, the remains will be returned to families for burial with full military honours.

The remains were discovered by US charity History Flight after a four-month excavation on Betio island, part of Kiribati’s Tarawa Atoll, in the culmination of a multi-million-dollar, nine-year research project.

The discovery in March ended a 70-year-old mystery.

About 520 US servicemen are still unaccounted for from the battle.

Preliminary work conducted by History Flight indicates the remains of 1st Lt. Alexander J. Bonnyman, Jr., a marine who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour, are among the 36 brought to Hawai‘i.

History Flight brought attention to the Tarawa missing when its research indicated it had found the graves of 139 US servicemen.

The Florida-based organisation used ground-penetrating radar, reviewed thousands of military documents and interviewed veterans to narrow down possible grave sites.