The Battle of Tarawa has become a Marine Corps legend. It was the first time Marines had to face serious resistance to their amphibious landings, with the tiny island so heavily fortified that a Japanese admiral, Keiji Shibazaki, said it would take a million men a hundred years to take it.
The Marines succeeded, and in just three short days, but it was a hard-fought battle. Nearly 1,000 Marines were killed fighting the Japanese, who were prepared to fight to the last man — and they very nearly did, with only one officer and a handful of enlisted men surrendering. For the United States, it was a heavy loss. Some of the Marines who fell at Tarawa never got to come home… until now.
The Marines that fell were buried there in the sand on the island, and over 500 of them remain unaccounted for. But History Flight is hoping to change that. The non-profit organization has uncovered the remains of over 100 American servicemen, and 36 of the Marines who fell have been brought home. One of them is 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics that day. History Flight has begun identifying the remains, which were brought to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and given a repatriation ceremony. The POW/MIA Accounting Agency will then complete the process, and the Marines will be given back to their families for a proper burial with military honors.
These American heroes, once declared “unrecoverable,” are finally home.