Home News History Flight makes second-largest recovery of missing WWII remains

History Flight makes second-largest recovery of missing WWII remains

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Marine caskets recovered from History Flight
Caskets containing remains of Marines recovered by History Flight, newly arrived at Hickam from Tarawa,
awaiting final identification at the DPAA forensic lab. Photo: History Lab

An archaeological team from Florida-based History Flight, Inc. has turned over 24 sets of remains to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense, for official identification.

Private, non-profit History Flight recently recovered the remains of long-missing U.S. personnel from the Nov. 20-23, 1943 Battle of Tarawa and its aftermath on Betio Island. This is the second-largest single recovery of U.S. battlefield remains since the Korean War, topped only by History Flight’s 2015 recovery of 35 sets of remains, including those of Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., also on Betio.

“We are immensely pleased to be able to deliver the two largest recoveries since the Korean War in a span of just over two years,” says History Flight founder and director Mark Noah. “We’re also grateful to have such an excellent public-private partnership with the DPAA. We feel that this recovery is an exemplar of the successful two-year, public-private partnership we have with the Department of Defense and is an indication that more success lies in the future.”

Members of the DPAA, U.S.  Forces, Pacific and History Flight held a Repatriation Ceremony of the remains at Tarawa’s Bonriki International Airport on July 24, after which they were flown to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu and transferred to the DPAA Laboratory.

“History Flight’s recovery efforts of Marines lost during the Battle of Tarawa continue to be a model of success,” said Fern Sumpter Winbush, acting director of DPAA. “The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation, and through our strategic partnership with History Flight we are confident that we will continue to have success.”

More than 1,100 U.S. personnel were killed in the bloody, 76-hour Battle of Tarawa and its aftermath. Due to extreme environmental conditions in the equatorial Pacific, remains were hastily buried in trenches and individual graves on and around sandy, one-square-kilometer on Betio.

Teams from the U.S. Army Graves Registration Service returned after the war to exhume and repatriate the remains, but could not locate over 500 servicemen. In 1949, the Army Quartermaster General’s Office declared the missing servicemen “unrecoverable,” and informed hundreds of families that their loved ones had been “buried at sea” or as “unknowns” in Hawaii.

For over seven decades, few Americans — including families of the missing — were aware that over 500 Marines (and a small number of Navy and Army personnel) remained buried on or near Betio.

Since 2007, History Flight has been actively searching for and recovering remains nearly year-round on Betio.

“The investment of 10 years of work and $6.5 million has resulted in the recovery of extremely significant, but not yet to be disclosed, number of missing American service personnel,” Noah says. “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.”

The remains, turned over on July 24, were discovered adjacent to the site of a memorial cemetery built after the war, but most were found outside its recorded boundaries.

“This is unwritten history that we are writing today,” Noah says. “We’ve discovered that the official records were often wrong in many and multifaceted ways.”

History Flight maintains a full-time Tarawa office as well as offices in Europe and the Philippines.

For more information visit www.historyflight.com or call 1-888-743-3311. Also, visit History Flight, and Tarawa MIA Families, on Facebook.

SOURCE History Flight, Inc.

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