Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Still Coming Home

 

Betio is a small triangular island located about 2,400 miles southwest of Hawaii in the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. Only 2 miles long and about 800 yards at its widest point it would not seem to be a place of any great importance in the world. Yet, during the Second World War, Imperial Japan fortified it with 2,600 troops and 2,200 construction workers, 1,200 of which were Korean slave laborers.

Admiral Chester Nimitz called it “the front door to Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific.” The Gilberts lead you to the Marshall Islands, the Marshalls to the Marianas, the Marianas to the Carolines and, finally, back to the Philippines. Further southwest, closer to Australia, US forces had began a similar campaign in the Solomons in February of 1943. There, over the course of six months, the 2nd Marine Division took 1,200 casualties (268 dead). After R&R in New Zealand, they would be tasked to lead the assault on Tarawa where they took 3,301 casualties (990 dead) in just two weeks of operation. Almost half of that would come in the first 24 hours. It has been called the toughest battle in the history of the United States Marines.

The dead were buried quickly and haphazardly. When the island was secured, the Seabees came to build an airfield. In the process, grave markers were moved but not the graves. In the last decade volunteers from History Flight, a non-profit dedicated to securing the bodies of all WWII era missing, have found and help repatriate 272 Marines and Navy personnel including Medal of Honor recipient 1st Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Jr. They estimate that there are approximately 270 men left to be recovered on the island.

This week, the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, in conjunction with History Flight and the Marine Corps solemnly loaded 22 more remains onto C-130s for the long journey to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam where they will undergo forensic testing to see if they can identify them and return each to their hometowns for burial “with pride, dignity and honor.”

In 2017, Mark Noah, the president of History Flight estimated that they had already spent close to $6.5 million in the effort. “Our trans-disciplinary team — including many volunteers — of forensic anthropologists, geophysicists, historians, surveyors, anthropologists, forensic odontologists, unexploded ordnance specialists, medics and even a cadaver-dog handler have excelled in difficult conditions to produce spectacular results.”

 

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There are 8 comments.

  1. Gary Robbins Reagan

    What a wonderful post! I am so glad that they are coming home, and that their remains are accorded the full honor they are entitled to.

    After my Father died in 2016, he was buried at the Phoenix Veterans Cemetery, and they were fellow Navy sailors there in the honor guard to thank him for his service. They were very young men, there to honor a 90 year old WW2 veteran.

    The Armed Forces are a family, a family that keeps us safe. If you are a Veteran, thank you so much for your service.

    • #1
    • July 20, 2019, at 2:19 PM PST
    • 11 likes
  2. Arahant Member

    May your homes be found and may you rest in peace, Marines.

    • #2
    • July 20, 2019, at 2:25 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  3. Mike Rapkoch Member

    This seems appropriate:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70Ikj1hZDnw

    • #3
    • July 20, 2019, at 2:34 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. Gary Robbins Reagan

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):

    This seems appropriate:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70Ikj1hZDnw

    With tears in my eyes. Thank you.

    • #4
    • July 20, 2019, at 2:47 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Bishop Wash Member

    A wonderful story. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. 

    • #5
    • July 20, 2019, at 4:58 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  6. Hoyacon Member

    Thanks EJ.

    • #6
    • July 20, 2019, at 5:21 PM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Randy Webster Member

    The war in the Pacific was three months of boredom and four weeks of terror. The war in Europe was a year of grinding fear.

    • #7
    • July 20, 2019, at 7:03 PM PST
    • 1 like
  8. MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chri… Coolidge

    Interesting link on Bonnyman – thank you for that. One of a zillion stories of random heroics by Americans trying to get the job done, and go home.

    Funny how some descendants name their books, vs. some milquetoasty sops who use lofty phrases like “dreams from my father”, to help make them more authentic, and therefore, more electable.

    Real sacrifices are made by those who left their bones behind on tiny islands in the Pacific, so sissies could be free.

    Bonnyman’s grandson, Clay Bonnyman Evans, a volunteer with History Flight, was present when Lt. Bonnyman’s remains were exposed on May 28, 2015 and exhumed on May 29, and recorded the recovery via video and still photographs. Evans’ book, Bones of My Grandfather: Reclaiming a Lost Hero of World War II, which recounts his grandfather’s life story and the history of the recovery efforts, was published July 10, 2018.

    • #8
    • July 22, 2019, at 3:41 AM PST
    • 1 like