WW2 Tarawa's lost Marines

Discussion in 'Military' started by whitehall, Apr 26, 2011.

  1. whitehall
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    whitehall VIP Member Supporting Member

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    The source is an article in "Semper Fi", the magazine of the Marine Corps League from a book Tarawa's Gravediggers by Bill Niven.. Apparently the Army KIA in Europe during WW2 were respected and the temporary graves marked as well as possible. Not so in the Pacific where Marines got the shitty end of the stick, the bulldozing of the Marine graves on Tarawa. During the 72 hour battle the Marines sustained 1,027 KIA which were buried in mass graves in 42 temporary cemeteries by Marine engineers and Navy See Bees. Official records indicate 1,027 Marines buried but other records indicate 1266 including Navy personnel. Here's where it gets bad. See Bees were instructed by the War dept to turn Tarawa into an air base and every cemetary was bulldozed. In a March 1944 photo op for Life Magazine the War department erected a nice field of crosses but there was nothing under them. To add insult to injury the Navy Dept tried to comfort the families of lost Marines with conflicting stories about being buried at sea. In one account the family of a Marine Medal of Honor Lt. was told by the Lt's platoon of the respectful way they buried him in one of the temporary cemeteries and years later the Navy Dept sent them a letter saying that the Lt was buried at sea which they knew was a lie. Today the researchers are still trying to piece the honored Marine dead from abandoned junk piles left on Tarawa.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2011
  2. Toronado3800
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    Toronado3800 Senior Member

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    W/O reading further I hope the deal is that airbase was needed SOOO quick there was not time to relocate the bodies. If so the dead made one last noble sacrifice for to help save their live comrades.

    Please say that is so.
  3. whitehall
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    whitehall VIP Member Supporting Member

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    Was the construction of Tarawa's airstrip so important that cemeteries couldn't be relocated? It doesn't look like it. The coverup is usually worse than the crime. The Life photograph of pristine grave sites is bogus and the incredibly inept attempt by the Navy Dept to cover their butts by sending letters about burial at sea that they knew weren't verified is hard to understand. The parents of Marine Lt. Bonnymann who was killed leading the charge at a bunker and received the Medal of Honor were informed by the Navy Dept in 1949 that their son was buried at sea which conflicted with the numerous letters from his men. His body was never recovered.
  4. RetiredGySgt
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    RetiredGySgt VIP Member

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    I don't recall any heavy fighting near Tarawa after it fell so the need for an airbase was not, as far as I can tell, a priority so dire that bodies had to be bulldozed over.
  5. whitehall
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    whitehall VIP Member Supporting Member

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    The point is that it wasn't all sweetness and respect for the American Military during and after WW2. Marines were sacrificed in ways that would make your hair curl today. The media did their best to rewrite history but the tragedies and corruption and the coverups by the government happened and we need to understand it and compare it to the situations we face today.
  6. Dog Boy
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    I can speak with some authority on this subject because I was a member of the History Flight search team that was on Tarawa for an 10 day mission in February of this year. My assingment was to locate mass graves and cemeteries containing US Marines using my grave detection K9, Buster. We can search large areas very quickly and put the geophysics team right on top of the sites. They then did detailed scanning with the Ground Penetrating Radar, Magnetometer and EM-38 Mark 2.

    Everyone on the mission was a volunteer with expenses paid for by History Flight and American Airlines.

    Search areas were selected by converting military grid coordinates of Marine burial sites to GPS coordinates as well as interviews with Tarawa Marines who were involved in the burials of their fellow Marines and examining overlays of 1943 aerial photos of the island with present day aerial photos of the island. The small island has over 20,000 residents there now and it is very crowded.

    I can tell you that the mission was VERY SUCCESSFUL and the data will be given to JPAC. Hisorty Flight executive director Mark Noah and I will be meeting next week with Congressman Buck McKeon and his staff in Washington DC. Congressman McKeon is a big supporter of bringing the Tarawa Marines home. He is also Chairman of the House Armed Services Committiee.

    Sgt. Paul Dostie (ret. MLPD)
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  7. whitehall
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    whitehall VIP Member Supporting Member

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    Yeah, Dog Boy, we understand GPS technology but the sites were fragmented and spread out by dozers sixty five years ago. I never heard of a cadaver dog working with evidence that old. I hope modern technology finally succeeds in it's mission but for what I see in the Marine Corps League magazine it ain't going to be easy. More like a tooth or a contaminated fragmented bone to stand for what was once the valor of Marines in the Pacific. I hope they find something to bury in Medal of Honor Lt. Bonnyman's grave.
  8. Oddball
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    :salute:
  9. Dog Boy
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    Using the K9 to locate graves on Tarawa was scientifically fairly easy because all the environmental conditions were in our favor. We were subjected to several double blind tests in areas where human remains were known to be located and the dog nailed every one of them.

    The typical "Cadaver Dog" is trained on soft tissue decomposition to find surface remains for Search and Rescue. This particular dog is trained to located human bone decomposition Volatile Organic Compounds, VOCs. This is an entirely different chemical profile or "scent". He is validated in detecting these VOCs in parts per trillion by Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer analysis at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    The geophysics team are experts in identifying clandestine graves and uncasketed remains. GPS/GIS overlays of the K9 alerts with the GPR grave signatures, match up.
  10. whitehall
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    whitehall VIP Member Supporting Member

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    I don't want to get in a pissin contest with an enthusiastic apparent modern expert in recovering bodies. I guess my ancient police experience is outclassed but I do know the difference between clandestine graves and uncasketed remains and what must be a incredible mess of fragmented bones and teeth spread out as fill on an air field. I hope the feds are hiring DNA experts these days and my point remains that the Tarawa case is an example of lack of leadership in the Military and callus disregard for the Uncommon Valor of Marines in the Pacific during the closing days of WW2
  11. Dog Boy
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    No pissin contest Whitehall. I am not an expert, just a serious student. There is one site as you describe and it was fill for a wharf. It is unknown if it contains Japaneses or Americans. It is very close to the trench where we believe Lt. Bonnyman and his men are buried with a parking lot on them now. His grandson Clay, is in Knoxville this weekend with the MOH. There is a memorial grave for Lt. Bonnyman there. Clay and his family have been fully briefed on our findings.

    Thus far, all the remains recovered by locals have been complete with gear. We have photos of the trench burials that our researchers have recoverd from the National Archives. The Marines were buried about 4 feet deep. Thus far, GPR scans indicate the trenches have not been disturbed. The island is flat, with the highest point 10 feet above sea level. In water wells that I have observed, the water level is 6-7 feet. The leveling of the island does not appear to have made it to the 4 foot depth where the burials took place.

    You also make a good point about disarticulated remains. The recovery efforts in the late 1940's did not get every toe and finger bone.

    I agree with you that the Tarawa Marines were were totally disrespected. We hope to correct that. Many of the relatives of the Tarawa missing have already given their DNA to JPAC which has a large DNA Lab.

    Also, Forensic Geneaology can be used to find Y DNA and mtDNA links since we have over 500 casualty cards with the names of the missing Marines.

    I retired from Law Enforcement two years ago and I have lectured on using advanced forensic science not used by Law Enforcement in the identification of unknown human remains. This means that I know a lot of people smarter than me!
  12. whitehall
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    whitehall VIP Member Supporting Member

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    Semper Fi Dog Boy. I appreciate your candor and expertise.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2011
  13. Dog Boy
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    Roger that!
  14. waltky
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    waltky VIP Member Supporting Member

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    Purt soon dey gonna be lost forever...

    ... with global warming raisin' sea levels...

    ... Tarawa an' Tuvulu gonna be underwater.
    :eek:
  15. whitehall
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    whitehall VIP Member Supporting Member

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    Do you greenies even understand the concept? Even if Tarawa was underwater (doubtful in this millennium) and the bodies were still intact under the neat rows of crosses they would not be "lost forever" anymore than the Sailors still aboard the Arizona are lost forever. They are only lost forever when they are used as fill to pave roads. Why don't you go wash a duck waltky.
  16. itsallrelative2
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    itsallrelative2 Rookie

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    Dog Boy

    I am interested in anything you can tell me about findings near Red Beach Two. Looking for men from the 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, Company C. Thank you in advance for your time.
  17. regent
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    regent Senior Member

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    In the Pacific there was a need to get the bodies underground as soon as possible. There were few Graves Registration teams in the Pacific for either the army or the navy, (marines) and the burials were always a problem. Another problem in the Pacific was that the battles were often sudden and overwhelming and burials often occurred where the bodies were. Later, some of this was remedied with graves registration teams.
    At this moment I believe America still has teams in the Pacific looking for the dead, and the Japanese are also still searching for their dead.
  18. namvet
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    namvet VIP Member

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    I first became aware of this years ago. the Leon Cooper story and what he found when he got there. a horrific mess. when it was finally cleaned up they started digging

    [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz9U_gvdA-Q]Return To Tarawa - YouTube[/ame]

    FEBRUARY/MARCH 2009 – The remains of more than 100 marines who were killed during the battle of Tarawa appear to have been discovered in mass graves on the tiny Pacific atoll, according to a group that conducted a search with ground-penetrating radar this fall.

    story

    [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ma3xTjRBlJE]Extra: Filmmaker Talks "Return to Tarawa" - YouTube[/ame]

    they widened the search to near by islands. and found more on Makin island. the Japanese are still hunting their own

    [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6f_FvZpm3g]Return to Makin Island iPod Version - YouTube[/ame]
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  19. whitehall
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    whitehall VIP Member Supporting Member

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    Yeah right, does anyone not know about biological effects on a dead body? Try talking about facts instead of cliches. The Tarawa battle was overwhelming to the Japanese rather the Americans. The US knew where the "temporary" cemetery was but they chose to destroy it because it was in the way. The coverup is always worse than the crime and the Navy apparently chose to lie to the families of dead Heroes rather than fess up to the really bad decision.
  20. namvet
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    namvet VIP Member

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    no need for any cover up here. this was the first Pacific battle they released photos of the dead. and it back fired creating an outrage nation wide. with many calling for the Navy and Marine top brass to be Court martialed and shot. the pulic was just a little biased. all they wanted was pics of "dead Japs".

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