The deaths of more than 30 US Marines and sailors killed in one of the blood-soaked battles of World War II are believed to have been found on the remote atoll of Tarawa.
The discovery was made in March by History Flight, a nonprofit organization that searches for the remains of US servicemen lost in past battles.
The remains on Tarawa, located some 2,300 miles from Honolulu, are believed to belong to Marines and sailors from the 6th Marine Regiment killed during the last night of the three-day Battle of Tarawa in November 1943.
More than 1,000 US Marines and sailors died in the battle after the US launched an amphibious attack on the small island in the central Pacific Ocean. They were met with Japanese machine-gun fire when their boats got stuck on the reef at low tide. Those who made it to the beach faced a hand-to-hand fight.
The US military buried its men in temporary cemeteries on Tarawa but Navy construction battalion sailors removed the grave markers when they built runways and other infrastructure to help US forces push farther west toward Japan.
History Flight found the graves after demolishing an abandoned building. A number of them sit below the water table, meaning workers must pump water from the site each day to excavate.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency expects to pick up the remains and fly them to Hawaii next month, said Dr. John Byrd, director of agency’s laboratories.
Military forensic anthropologists will use dental records, DNA and other clues to identify them.
History Flight, which has been digging under a Defense Department contract, has recovered the remains of 272 individuals from Tarawa since 2015, said president Mark Noah.
He estimates there are at least another 270 to be found.
In 2017, DNA was used to positively identify the remains of Joseph C. Carbone, a Marine who was killed on the first day of the Battle of Tarawa.