How A Citizen Hero Helped America Recover Bodies Of Marines Slain In 1942

Islander Hero Helps Recover Marine Bodies

During World War II, an elite group of Marines who specialized in amphibious infantry combat headed into one of the first operations in the Pacific War. The Raiders were tasked with demolishing Japanese installations on Makin Island while gathering intelligence.

Battle At The Sea Base

The Marines were also there to distract the Japanese from what was happening on Guadalcanal. However, the tiny seaplane installation raid did not go exactly as planned.

The Japanese stationed at the base put up a tough defense, but the Raiders were able to take out two ships and planes and quite a few Japanese fighters. Overall, the mission was going well, but that ended when it was time to leave.

The Marine’s exit from the island was plagued by strong surf and mechanical issues. Out of the 18 boats, 11 could not leave the shore away, but they eventually made it to the extraction submarine.

Left Behind

However, 18 Marines did in the raid while 12 went missing. On top of the loss of life, the Marines were unable to get any information, but they did get the chance to try out some coastal tactics.

Unfortunately, the Marines were not able to gather their dead due to the fast exit. But, they did not want the Japanese to find the bodies so, they had the Butaritari men bury the bodies.

The U.S. Department of Defense received a tip in 2000 from a man who was just a teenager at the time. He led the team to where the bodies were buried.

Coming Home

The Marines had been buried with the utmost respect, aligned with the Butaritari customs, complete with their uniforms, rifles, grenades, helmets, and most importantly, their dog tags.

The intact bodies in flag-covered coffins were carried into a C-130 by Marines in their dress blues. As they were boing loaded, the man who called in the tip started to sing the Marine Corps Hymn.

The man did not know English or what the song meant, but he remembered being taught the words by a Marine almost 60 years earlier. Unfortunately, while 19 Raiders made their long-awaited journey back to the United States, the bodies of 11 others are still missing.

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