The remains of 39 Marines — including Alexander Bonnyman Jr. — will return to the U.S. this weekend, more than seven decades after the men vanished during World War II’s Battle of Tarawa.
A repatriation ceremony is scheduled for Sunday at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu.
After Bonnyman and his comrades died in 1943, the military issued a letter stating that most of those killed at Tarawa were presumed lost at sea.
In May, however, the Marines’ remains were uncovered by an archeological team on Betio, in the Republic of Kirbati.
Welcome home, Marines.
This is a tad embarrassing for the service. The DoD POW/MIA Accounting Agency exists to fulfill this role. Through various names over the years, the DPAA has sought to recover the remains of Missing in Action personnel, originally from the Vietnam War, but eventually expanding its role to all unrecovered US personnel.
What’s sad is that the remains found on Bieto were something of an open secret.
We’ll leave it to Jennifer Holik to explain the exact details of interment during the war, but in general, if you were killed in action, you could expect to be buried in a temporary grave very near where you fell. After the battlefield was secured, you’d be reburied in another cemetery, and eventually, after the war, a final, permanent resting place, either overseas or here in the United States.
In this case, it appears that the temporary graveyard was simply forgotten, and part of it at least was built over during the construction of military installations on Bieto after it was secured.