Remains Recovery for Local Soldiers Killed in WWII Sought (September 1, 2010)

Suburban Life
September 1, 2010

Ask any warrior, and they'll tell you it's tough to leave a man behind.

The remains of many were left in far-flung places such as Tarawa, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific Theater during the Second World War. Remains of soldiers such as George Polich of Lyons or Harry Carlsen of Brookfield.

Now, some of them may be coming home.

A Pentagon archeological team is currently searching for the remains of hundreds of American Marines and sailors killed on the island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll during three days of fighting that began on Nov. 20, 1943.

Many of the missing were Illinois residents, many from the Chicago area.

The search, authorized by the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, comes on the heels of efforts made by U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-3rd District, Western Springs, to successfully get an amendment to last year's defense authorization bill calling on the Pentagon "to undertake all feasible efforts to recover, identify, and return" the remains of those killed on Tarawa.

"Those men who died 67 years ago were certainly American heroes," Lipinski said. "It is long past the time their remains are repatriated for their families. It's good to remember those who have given so much for us. It also reminds us today of those who are putting their lives on the line around the world to keep us free."

An initial investigation by JPAC in September located six possible burial sites on the island of Betio, where the battle was fought. JPAC expects its search will last roughly six weeks.

Lipinski said he received a call from Chicago Ald. Jim Balcer, 11th Ward, last June after Balcer read a news account about a developer unearthing the remains of combatants on Tarawa.

As a result, Lipinski brought up the issue with the House chairman of the Armed Services Committee. The fact that hard evidence existed about the presence of remains helped move the initiative forward, Lipinski said.

"I'm just very happy that it has, in one year, quickly reached this point," Lipinski said.

More than 1,100 Americans were killed as the 2nd Marine Division took the island measuring less than three miles in length and a half-mile in width.

Heavily fortified, combined Marine, Navy and Army units battled an entrenched force of 5,000 enemy troops, including members of the 7th Sasebo Special Naval Landing Force and the 11th Pioneers, a construction battalion.

The remains of some 564 Americans were never recovered.

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