As a note, this week is the 76th anniversary of the bloody and hard-fought Battle of Tarawa.
Maj. Gen. Julian C. Smith’s 2nd Mar Div– consisting of the 2nd, 8th, 10th, and 18th Marines– hit the Red Beach 1, 2, and 3 and Green Beach. The Marines were opposed by 4,800 mixed Imperial Japanese Navy SNLF and Korean construction troops, who were holed up in more than 500 sand-and-log pillboxes under command of RADM Keiji Shibazaki.
The effort for the Gilbert Islands atoll raged for three days, resulting in 3,301 Marine casualties out of the 18,000 that landed– a rate of one-in-six.
Of the four Marines who received the Medal of Honor for Tarawa, three did so posthumously.
From the DOD:
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today the remains of at least 22 servicemen, killed during the 1943 Battle of Tarawa in World War II, are being returned to the United States in an Honorable Carry Ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, July 17, 2019.
The Battle for Tarawa was part of a larger U.S. invasion (Operation GALVANIC) to capture Japanese-held territory within the Gilbert Islands. The operation commenced on November 20, 1943, with simultaneous attacks at Betio Island (within the Tarawa Atoll) and Makin Island (more than 100 miles north of Tarawa Atoll). While lighter Japanese defenses at Makin Island meant fewer losses for U.S. forces, firmly entrenched Japanese defenders on Betio Island turned the fight for Tarawa Atoll into a costly 76-hour battle.
Over several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, while the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Servicemen killed in action were buried where they fell or placed in large trench burials constructed during and after the battle. These graves were typically marked with improvised markers, such as crosses made from sticks, or an up-turned rifle. Grave sites ranged in size from single isolated burials to large trench burials of more than 100 individuals.
Postwar Graves Registration recovery efforts were complicated by incomplete record-keeping and by the alterations to the cemeteries shortly after the battle. The locations of multiple cemeteries were lost. The alternations to other cemeteries resulted in the relocation of grave markers without relocating the remains beneath. These sites became known as memorial graves. As a result, many of the Tarawa dead were not recovered.
“Today we welcome home more than 20 American servicemen still unaccounted for from the battle of Tarawa during World War II,” said Acting Secretary of Defense Richard V. Spencer. “We do not forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and it is our duty and obligation to return our missing home to their families and the nation.”
The bodies of 36 US Marines have been found on a remote Pacific island more than 70 years after they died in a bloody World War II battle, a member of the recovery team said.
The remains of the men were discovered after a four-month excavation on Betio Island in Kiribati, director of US charity History Flight Inc., Mark Noah, told Radio New Zealand.
Noah, whose organization worked with the US Defense Department on the project, said the men were killed during the Battle of Tarawa in 1943.
“(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,” he said late Tuesday.
While the remains have not been formally identified, Noah said they almost certainly include those of Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, who posthumously received America’s highest military accolade, the Medal of Honor, for conspicuous gallantry.
Devil Dogs just before the Tarawa landings doing what Marines normally do…
Tragically, Tarawa was a hard nut to crack for the 2nd Marine Division and these leathernecks deserved every bit of happiness they got prior to hitting the beach. In just three days the Marines suffered 1,009 killed and 2,101 wounded, a casualty rate of some 10 percent.
In the Roman times such a rate was called decimation.
We had been on the island for about an hour when we found the first skeleton. It was a pile of yellow bones tucked inside a cardboard box. Mark Noah squatted down for a look. He is a stocky man of 48, with a light buzz of blond hair and the wind-beaten eyes of a lifelong outdoorsman.
Since 2008, he has been traveling to the tiny Pacific atoll of Tarawa to search for the remains of more than 500 Marines who died there in World War II. Sometimes locals dig up their bones and leave them in his storage locker.
Noah reached into the box and pushed aside a fragment of cranium to remove a curved metal plate. “Wow,” he muttered. “Clearly a World War II burial with the helmet.” He passed it to the man crouching next to him, Bill Belcher, and added, “It looks American.”
Belcher nodded. “That’s what I thought when I saw it.” He laid the piece back in the box and picked up two sections of jawbone with the teeth still attached. They fit together into a complete lower mandible, which Belcher held close to his glasses, squinting. Noah pulled another hunk of metal from the box. “And this is a hand grenade,” he said. He shook his head and smiled. It was all pretty normal on Tarawa.