The Chadron-area Marine was killed nearly 73 years ago in the amphibious assault on the Pacific atoll of Tarawa during World War II. More than 1,000 U.S. servicemen died in the 76-hour battle with Japanese forces to take control of a strategic airfield.
In June 2015, a nonprofit organization called History Flight notified the Department of Defense that they had discovered the remains of 35 servicemen on Tarawa. One of them was Fae Moore.
Sgt. Moore’s remains will be flown from Honolulu to Rapid City on Oct. 4, and will continue the journey to Chadron on Oct. 5.
On Thursday morning, Oct. 6, Sgt. Moore will make his final journey home, as he is laid to rest with his parents in Beaver Valley Cemetery, 16 miles northeast of Chadron. The memorial service, with full military honors, will begin at10:30 a.m.
Following the services, a luncheon will be held at the American Legion Club in Chadron, to which all are invited.
For many of the 50 or so Moore family members who plan to attend, it will be a chance for fellowship. Most haven’t seen one another for many years. Many have never met.
Most importantly, this homecoming and service will be an opportunity for all to come together and pay their respects to this young Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Fae Verlin Moore was born in Chadron on May 16, 1920, the youngest of Alonzo and Mary Moore’s 10 children. The family farmed in Beaver Valley east of Chadron during the 1920s until moving to the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1931.
Moore attended Beaver Valley School and completed eighth grade before leaving school to work and help his family during the “Dirty Thirties.” He was barely 5′ 6″ and weighed just 134, but he knew how to work and took on ranching jobs for a few years.
Moore signed up for a four-year hitch in the in August 1941, nearly four months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Accepted for enlistment in Rapid City, he traveled to Minneapolis for his physical examination and processing. Three days later, the 21-year-old private was at Recruit Depot-San Diego for boot camp.
After just one week, he wrote to his sister, Hazel Moss, in Nebraska that “the Marines are a lot tougher and stricter than the Army or Navy I don’t get to leave this post for seven weeks and after that they may send me somewhere else. This keeps their men on the move all the time.”
By December, Moore had finished boot camp and received orders to Company E (“Easy” Company), Second Battalion, Eighth Marines.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he again wrote to Hazel, “I guess everybody is worried, but I can’t understand why. We aren’t most of these boys have or had pals over on Wake Island, and they are crazy to go over and get even.”
On Jan. 6, 1942, Moore and his unit departed San Diego aboard the SS Matsonia, part of a convoy carrying 5,000 Marines assigned to defend American Samoa, and begin 10 months of intensive jungle warfare training.
Moore was promoted to Private First Class (PFC) and his unit shipped out for Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. They reinforced the 1st Marine Division, which was bogged down in the first major Allied offensive in the Pacific.
It was his first taste of combat. The death toll was high: Some 20,000 Japanese and 2,000 Americans died. The Japanese withdrew from Guadalcanal by February 1943, and “Easy” Company was on its way to New Zealand for a bit of rest and further training.
Upon arriving in Wellington, Moore again wrote to Hazel, “I am where I can get some pictures taken; this is a pretty nice place.”
Perhaps his impressions were shaped a bit by a girl named Jill Hudson. Little is known about their meeting or courtship, but eventually they became engaged.
Moore was promoted twice during 1943, sewing on Sergeant stripes in August. He had to say goodbye to Hudson in late October when his unit boarded the USS Heywood, for exercises and an unknown destination. By Nov. 19, the Heywood was in the central Pacific, approaching the Gilbert Islands and the Japanese stronghold at Tarawa.
Control of the airstrip there, according to the Navy, “offered the Pacific Fleet a platform from which to launch assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands” to help the Navy in its westward campaign. The island of Betio, where the airstrip was located, is only about two-and-a-quarter miles long and less than a half-mile wide.
Operation Galvanic, the assault on Betio, began Nov. 20, 1943. Moore’s 2nd Battalion, Eighth Marines launched the first wave, landing on Red Beach 3 before the Japanese could man their weapons. Unfortunately, many U.S.landing boats were caught on reefs, and hundreds of Marines had to wade through the chest-high surf and were mowed down by enemy machine guns before hitting the beach.
The battle raged for 76 hours before the Marines took control of Betio. Among the 1,027 Marines reported killed was Sergeant Fae Moore. Decaying bodies, including about 5,000 Japanese military personnel and Korean slave laborers, posed serious health issues. Most of the dead were buried in temporary trenches.
Back in Nebraska, Moore’s mother and father in Chadron were likely making preparations for Thanksgiving. They knew their son was in the Pacific, but they didn’t know where. News reports told of the Allied push across the Pacific, including the battle on Tarawa, but there were no details on casualties.
Thanksgiving came and went. Then, two days before Christmas, a telegram addressed to Mary Moore arrived at 229 Ann Street.
“DEEPLY REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON CORPORAL FAE V MOORE USMC WAS KILLED IN ACTION IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS DUTY AND IN THE SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY .”
It was signed by the Commandant of the .
Mary Moore immediately sent a return telegram:
“SEND MY SON’S BODY BACK TO US IF POSSIBLE.”
Two months passed, and the advised Moore’s mother that they intended to return the remains of the Tarawa dead to the United States “upon cessation of hostilities.” Mary Moore could still hope that her son would soon come home for burial. But if there was any comfort in that prospect, it was soon dashed by more tragedy.
Mary and Alonzo Moore’s 17-year-old grandson, Raymond Moore, was living with his grandparents while attending school in Chadron. On May 24, 1944, Raymond drowned while trying to retrieve a fishing pole in the city dam. Then, five months later, 74-year-old Alonzo died.
In New Zealand, Moore’s fiancee, Jill, saw his name in a newspaper listing of Tarawa casualties. She wrote to Headquarters and requested the address of Moore’s parents, so she could correspond with them. TheMarines provided the address, but no letters between the Moore family and Miss Hudson have been discovered.
After the war, the many burial sites on Tarawa were consolidated into one called Lone Palm Cemetery. Numerous memorial graves had crosses and names on them, but no bodies were found. Such was the case for Moore and others buried in “Cemetery 27.” In 1948, all remains from the Lone Palm Cemetery were sent to Hawaii for identification, but they included only about half of the Marines killed on Tarawa.
Marine Commandant General A. A. Vandegrift sent a two-page letter to Moore’s mother: “I regret extremely that I must inform you that the remains of your son were not found to be beneath the marker previously reported I am deeply grieved that there must now be added to your sorrow this most distressing information.”
It was, indeed, another blow to the family.
“Grandma was really broken up by the news,” remembers her granddaughter, Mildred Moore Cooley. “After all, Fae was her baby boy. And with no body to bring home for burial, that was really disturbing.”
In February 1949, a Board of Review declared the remains of Moore as “non-recoverable.”
Moore’s mother died Dec. 1, 1958, in Chadron, at age 82.
For the next 60 years, the notion that there were any Marines or sailors still buried on Tarawa seemed to have vanished from public consciousness.
In 2004, the Department of Defense established a task force called the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to find Americans listed as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action from all past wars and conflicts. Two years later, a nonprofit called “History Flight” was formed in Florida by Mark Noah, an airline pilot and aviation historian. While visiting Tarawa, he learned about the “lost graves of Tarawa.” A History Flight team later returned and located 11 lost graveyards and the remains of 123 Marines.
In January 2015, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a former U.S. Senator from Nebraska, consolidated several military organizations doing similar recovery work into one, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The agency has reaffirmed partnerships with non-governmental organizations – like History Flight – in the research, investigation, and recovery of remains previously declared unrecoverable.
The latest success came in March 2015 on Tarawa when a History Flight team discovered a burial trench on Betio Island. They excavated the site in May, recovering the remains of about 35 U.S. servicemen, which were flown to the DPAA laboratory in Hawaii for identification.
After analyses of skeletal remains and artifacts, evidence was strong that the remains of Moore were part of the discovery. More telling was a dental analysis comparing his records with physical evidence found on Betio.
Last October, Lawrence Denton of Lakewood, Colo., received a phone call from retired Marine Master Sergeant Chuck Williams with the POW agency.
“What does the name Fae Moore mean to you?”
“That was my mother’s youngest brother, killed in World War II,” Denton responded.
“Then I’m talking to the right person,” Williams said. “We have discovered some remains, and I’m looking for a family member to give DNA, and if there are no siblings of Sergeant Moore still alive, we like to have DNA from the oldest living niece or nephew.”
Denton, who grew up in Chadron, realized this was an opportunity to fulfill the wishes and dreams of his grandmother, who was Moore’s mother.
He received the DNA kit in November, completed the sampling, and returned it to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Delaware for analysis.
Four months later, Navy Captain Edward A. Reedy signed this simple statement:
“The remains designated CIL 2015-125-1-28, DPAA 2015-0012 are identified as those of Sergeant Fae Verlin MOORE, 317600, U.S. .”
It was official, but there was no public announcement.
In July, Denton received a call from Hattie Johnson, head of the POW/MIA Section at Headquarters. She confirmed that they had identified the remains of his uncle, Sergeant Fae Moore.
Unfortunately, the news came almost 60 years too late for Moore’s mother, Mary. There had been no closure for her.
Asked how his grandmother Moore might have responded to news of her son being found and finally coming home for burial with the family, Denton paused.
“With prayerful thanks that God had granted her wish.”