Military looks for WWII soldeirs on Tarawa, South Pacific
It's estimated that as many as 450 Marines remain buried on Tarawa, inteh South Pacific. Over the years, several bodies have been unearthed by construction workers and others. On Wednesday, local officials handed over a set of remains to the JPAC team in a ceremony conducted by Marine Capt. Todd Nordman.
Tarawa, a South Pacific atoll, was the site of one the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. Starting on the morning of November 20, 1942, more than 1,000 men were killed in roughly 72 hours of fighting with the Japanese. Hundreds of Marines were gunned down in the water trying to make it to shore.
Tarawa was before Iwo Jima. For Marines, the battle is both a source of pride and a lesson learned. The high casualties were blamed in part to poor planning. The attack was launched during low tide, which left a lot of the landing craft stuck on coral.
The Japanese were sitting in fortified bunkers along the shoreline, shooting Marines at close range as they attempted to make it to the beach. In the end, the Marines took the beach and won the battle. An estimated 4,000 Japanese soldiers died in the fighting, over what was considered at the time a strategic airstrip in the Pacific.
Nordman says he volunteered for this mission because of the Marine Corps history here. While JPAC may be made up of all branches of the military, for this mission it's almost all Marines. "Tarawa holds a soft spot in Marine Corps hearts, so it's important that we bring a large contingency from the Marine Corps," he says.
The mission calls for JPAC to dig at six sites, which if the research is correct, could yield more than 100 missing Marines. Finding where to dig took years of research, and several trips to Tarawa with ground-penetrating radar. That work was done by the nonprofit group History Flight and its founder Mark Noah, who has dedicated most of his life over recent years trying to bring the Marines of Tarawa home.
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