Remains Of 36 WWII Marines Found On Island

Betio Island, Kiribati. (Sky News (c))

The bodies of 36 US Marines have been found on a remote Pacific island more than 70 years after they died fighting the Japanese in the Second World War.

Mark Noah, director of US charity History Flight, said the remains of the men were discovered after a four-month excavation on Betio Island, Kiribati.

The men were killed during fighting in the Battle of Tarawa in 1943.

Aerial view of Betio, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands as seen from a Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless aircraft (flying at an altitude of 150 m) from the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9), 24 November 1943. The view is to the north toward "The Pocket", the last place of Japanese resistance. Two 12.7 cm flak guns are visible in the lower left. (U.S. Navy)
Aerial view of Betio, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands as seen from a Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless aircraft (flying at an altitude of 150 m) from the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9), 24 November 1943. The view is to the north toward “The Pocket”, the last place of Japanese resistance. Two 12.7 cm flak guns are visible in the lower left. (U.S. Navy)

Mr Noah told Radio New Zealand: “(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.”

Among the bodies is thought to be Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry – America’s highest military honour.

The citation for the medal said he led a series of assaults when Marines stormed the island, and was fatally injured while attacking a bomb-proof installation that was hindering the Marines’ advance.

A statement on the charity’s website said Lt Bonnyman’s daughters had decided to have his remains interred at a family plot in Knoxville, Tennessee.

View of the beach of Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, after the U.S. invasion in November 1943. Tarawa was attacked from 20 to 23 November 1943, the U.S. Marine Corps sustained 990 Marines killed and a further 2,296 wounded. The Japanese lost 4,713 men. Note the men sitting on the disabled M4 Sherman tank. Original description: "Sprawled bodies on beach of Tarawa, testifying to ferocity of the struggle for this stretch of sand. November 1943." ( U.S. National Archives)
View of the beach of Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, after the U.S. invasion in November 1943. Tarawa was attacked from 20 to 23 November 1943, the U.S. Marine Corps sustained 990 Marines killed and a further 2,296 wounded. The Japanese lost 4,713 men. Note the men sitting on the disabled M4 Sherman tank.
Original description: “Sprawled bodies on beach of Tarawa, testifying to ferocity of the struggle for this stretch of sand. November 1943.” ( U.S. National Archives)

 

More than 1,000 Americans died at Tarawa, and the entire Japanese garrison of 4,800 was wiped out.

Mr Noah said the remains will be repatriated to the US this month and identified using dental records and DNA.

He added that bodies of several hundred more US soldiers still remain on the island.

“There’s a lot of work to be done on the island,” he said.

(c) Sky News 2015

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