Heeding Rep. Lipinski's Call, Pentagon Searches for Remains of Hundreds of American War Heroes at Tarawa, Site of Famous WWII Pacific Battle (August 17, 2010)

In response to efforts by Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-03), a Pentagon archeological team is currently searching for the missing remains of hundreds of American Marines and sailors killed in the famous World War II Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific. Among the missing are dozens of Illinois residents, including many from the Chicago area.

The search by the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) is the result of Congressman Lipinski's success in attaching an amendment to last year's defense authorization bill calling on the Pentagon "to undertake all feasible efforts to recover, identify, and return" the missing remains of service members killed in the Battle of Tarawa. An initial investigation by JPAC in September located a total of six possible burial sites on the island of Betio, where the battle was fought. JPAC expects its search will last roughly six weeks.

"The men who died defending our nation on the shores of Tarawa sixty-seven years ago are true heroes," Congressman Lipinski said. "The extraordinary courage they demonstrated in the face of withering fire and overwhelming odds will never be forgotten. I am extremely pleased that my amendment prompted JPAC to return to Tarawa, and I thank all those who are diligently working to locate the bodies of the hundreds of Marines and sailors who gave their lives there in America's defense. We must do everything possible to see that their families are given a chance to bring them home."

The island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll, located halfway between Australia and Hawaii, was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The victory, in the words of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, "knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific," and the lessons learned in the art of amphibious warfare guided and influenced all subsequent landings in the Pacific. More than 1,100 American lives were lost in three days beginning on Nov. 20, 1943, as the 2nd Marine Division took the tiny but heavily fortified strip of land with the support of the Navy and Army units, destroying an entrenched force of 5,000 Japanese troops in bitter close-quarters combat. The remains of some 564 Americans were never recovered, as many bodies were buried where they fell and record-keeping was difficult and limited in the battle's chaotic aftermath.

In the event remains are recovered, the findings will be analyzed by scientific experts in the hopes of making positive identifications. A positive identification can bring closure to families whose loved ones are still missing.

Chicago Alderman James Balcer, a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, brought this issue to Congressman Lipinski's attention and has shown leadership locally by introducing a resolution that passed the Chicago City Council on a unanimous vote.

Congressman Lipinski's efforts to ensure the remains of missing service members are recovered go beyond Tarawa. He strongly supports a provision in the defense authorization act that directs the Secretary of Defense to implement a "coordinated, integrated, and fully resourced program" dedicated to locating missing service members killed in action. He recently led 14 of his colleagues in sending a letter to Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations Chairman Norman Dicks urging him to ensure that the Defense Department moves quickly to establish the mandated program.

"It is our solemn duty to see that those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Tarawa are afforded proper burials with all the honors that are their due," Congressman Lipinski said. "I look forward to seeing them brought home, and to continuing to work toward recovering the remains of all those who gave their lives in America's defense, wherever they may be found."

A list of Illinois service members who lost their lives in the Battle of Tarawa and whose bodies were never recovered is attached. Information regarding lost service members from other states, regions, and municipalities can be provided upon request.

(August 17, 2010)


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