WASHINGTON (AP) — August 17, 2001 — Thirteen World War II Marines whose remains were discovered on a South Pacific island nearly 60 years after they fell in battle were buried under gray skies Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.
The sun broke through the clouds just after a Marine bugler finished playing “Taps” and the chaplain of the United States Marine Raider Association led a prayer with family members and others attending the service.
“Today really signifies how the Marine Corps takes care of their own,” said Capt. Joe Kloppel at the end of the service. “This ceremony put a finalization on the sacrifice that the Marines made for their country 59 years ago.”
It was a final homecoming for the Marines killed during a 1942 raid on the Japanese-held Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.
An unsuccessful attempt to recover the bodies of 19 fallen Marines on Makin, now known as Butaritari, was made in 1949. The search was renewed in 1998 by relatives of men from the 2nd Raider Battalion and other World War II veterans.
The bodies, left on the small coral reef island after the two-day raid, were recovered and identified two years ago when searchers found an island resident who had helped bury the bodies as a young boy.
Six bodies were returned to families for burial. The remaining 13 Marines were flown Thursday from Hawaii to Andrews Air Force Base, where they were met by relatives and U.S. Marine Raider Association members.
Marines carried the flag-draped caskets to hearses bound for Arlington.
“They’re finally home, which is where I want to be when I die,” said 81-year-old Capt. Joe Griffith, the battalion’s only living officer. “They were good men and volunteers who did something over and above the call of duty by attempting to further the progress of engagement.”
Vernon Castle is one of the Raiders who will be buried on the 59th anniversary of the Battle of Makin, which was featured in the 1943 film “Gung Ho” starring Randolph Scott, Noah Beery Jr. and Robert Mitchum.
Castle’s sister, Vivian Yoder, traveled with her husband in a motor home from Hemet, Calif., to say goodbye.
“It will really provide closure after all of these years,” said Yoder, 78. “But there is something about military funerals that is always hard to take.”
Mary Baldwin of Spokane, Wash., said her husband, Robert, who died in December, served with the men. “Marines always take care of their own,” she said. “It is extremely important for the men to be brought home and honored.”
Among the 13 was Sgt. Clyde Thomason, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor during the war.