Lipinski Honors American Heroes by Commemorating Two Solemn Anniversaries: The Battle of Tarawa and Assassination of JFK

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3) and Chicago Ald. Jim Balcer (11th) were joined today by local active duty military personnel and veterans to commemorate two solemn anniversaries, the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Tarawa and the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. They also renewed their demand that the United States do everything possible to bring home the bodies of the heroes left behind at Tarawa, the Pacific island critical to victory in World War II. Joining the congressman and the alderman were relatives of those brave men from the Chicago area who have not been recovered, identified and given a proper burial.

“Today we commemorate two anniversaries and honor the heroism of great men who served our nation bravely and magnificently before their lives were cut short,” Rep. Lipinski said. “The importance of the Battle of Tarawa and the contributions of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country cannot be overstated. The courage they demonstrated on Tarawa will never be forgotten, but we still have unfinished business. We make a promise to all of our military men and women to leave no one behind. Sadly, we have not kept that promise at Tarawa. The men who died 70 years ago deserve to be brought back to the United States and buried with the utmost respect and honor.”

“It is very fitting that these two anniversaries overlap. JFK was a WWII hero who valiantly saved members of his crew on PT-109,” Rep. Lipinski continued. “When he was elected president in 1960 he represented a new generation of leaders and his vision helped to inspire America at a great time of transition for our nation. Those Americans who fought at Tarawa and JFK are true heroes of American history, whose sacrifices have made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms we do today as the world’s greatest nation.”

“As a Marine Corps veteran, it is an honor and a privilege to remember all of the Marines and Navy corpsman who died in the Battle of Tarawa. It’s only fitting on this day that we also pay our respects to President Kennedy, who received his naval officer training right here in the Chicago area and heroically saved lives serving his country in WWII,” Ald. Balcer said. “But we need to be doing more. I will continue to demand a complete accounting for all American personnel still on Tarawa. Their bodies should be brought home to their proper resting place in the United States. It is a national disgrace they are still there.”

Tarawa, located halfway between Australia and Hawaii, was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of WWII. More than 1,100 American lives were lost in three days beginning on Nov. 20, 1943, as the 2nd Marine Division and part of the Army's 27th Infantry took the island in an amphibious assault, dislodging an entrenched force of 5,000 Japanese soldiers. Lessons learned from Tarawa guided and influenced subsequent Allied landings in the Pacific, but the remains of some 564 Americans, including 38 from Illinois, were never recovered, as many bodies were buried where they fell and no detailed records ever kept.

A Marine and a decorated Vietnam veteran, Ald. Balcer, fought to focus attention on the missing remains on Tarawa, showing leadership by introducing a resolution that passed the Chicago City Council. Soon afterward, in a 2010 defense authorization bill in Congress, Rep. Lipinski added an amendment calling on the Department of Defense to “recover, identify and return remains of members of the Armed Forces from Tarawa.” He subsequently supported a broader provision in the bill directing the Secretary of Defense to implement a “coordinated, integrated and fully resourced program” dedicated to the recovery of the remains of all missing military personnel.

Prompted by the congressman, the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command started investigating the remains left at Tarawa. Earlier this year, JPAC recovered three bodies, including one identified as PFC Manley Winkley, of Indianapolis. His recovery, identification and return trip home was a first for JPAC at Tarawa.  

At today’s ceremony at Chicago’s Bridgeport VFW Post 5079, Lipinski and Balcer paid their respects to President Kennedy, who received his training at the Naval Reserve Officers Training School at Northwestern University. Lt. Kennedy was credited with saving the lives of 10 crewmen aboard PT-109 after it was struck by a Japanese destroyer while on patrol. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions. Later, while commanding PT-59, Kennedy rescued several dozen Marines who were trapped during a raid on Choiseul Island.

A list of the Tarawa missing from Illinois is attached.

Tarawa Illinois Missing (11/22/1305:37 PMET )
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