The Color Guard honors the dead on Butaritari.


Makin Atoll Raiders’ bodies discovered after nearly 60 years

Cpl. Abigail LaBin, III MEF Public Affairs

BUTARITARI ISLAND, REPUBLIC OF KIRIBATI– Marines never leave their dead comrades behind.  No fallen Marine is abandoned on the battlefield.  Whether a buddy pulls his wounded comrade to safety or a search and rescue team goes after a lost pilot, the Marines consider bringing every man home one of the most sacred obligations of Semper Fidelis.

Some Okinawa-based Marines recently helped fulfill that obligation to bring fallen comrades home.

These Marines recently made the journey to the South Pacific to pick up twenty fallen comrades for their journey home.  They called the mission “Operation Due Regard.” 

Fifty-seven years have passed since the Raider Battalion attack on Makin Island, now called Butaritari, in 1942. Thanks to a native of Butaritari, the Marines from Okinawa, and U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, the Marine Raiders were located and prepared for their return to the U.S.

“I’ve done a lot of different things,” said Maj. James C. King, Marine Aerial Refueling Transport Squadron 152, KC-130 aircraft commander for Due Regard.  “This is the most important.  I did the Gulf thing and it seemed important at the time, but it was nothing compared to this.”

In true Marine Corps fashion, the mission came suddenly and the team assembled with less than 48 hours notice.

Sergeant Robert J. Snoddy, color sergeant, Materiel Readiness Battalion, Third Force Service Support Group, was notified of the mission and told to muster a color guard the morning before departure.  None of the Marines knew the specifics of their mission, but showed up at the flightline with gear in hand, ready for anything.

After flying to Kwajalein for a night, the color guard boarded the plane in their dress uniforms for the two-hour flight to Butaritari, which lies an hour south of Kwajalein. 

When the plane landed on December 17, the island’s entire population arrived to watch the aircraft come in.  Standing in a group by the thatched huts and open-air airport, the islanders stared as Marines in full dress blues stepped off the plane’s ramp, U.S. and Marine Corps colors flying high in the wind under the blazing sun.

As the truck carrying the remains of the Marine Raiders crept toward the KC-130’s open ramp, the color guard slowly walked ahead. Once it was close to the plane, the four Marines quickly cased the colors and took up positions as an honor guard.  While the two rifle bearers presented arms at the foot of the ramp, and Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Joy, detail Staff NCOIC, saluted, Snoddy and Cpl. Kenneth G. Lyons Jr. carried the fallen Raiders aboard the plane.

“There’s so much history that happened here,” said Lyons.  “This is definitely the biggest honor I’ve had since I’ve been in the Marine Corps.”

On the ground before the ceremony, the Marines had the opportunity to meet the men responsible for the location and recovery of the Makin Island Raiders.

Although the remains were exhumed and identified by personnel from the Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI), the most important single link in the recovery was a civilian living on Butaritari.

“Mr. Baramoa was actually part of the detail the Japanese put together to collect the dead after the battle,” explained Army Capt. Mark Hollingsworth, recovery team leader.  “We had a team here in June that looked and dug in what we thought were likely places, but they didn’t find anything.  With his help, we managed to have a lot of success very quickly.” 

Success isn’t a cold matter of numbers and statistics to the men of CILHI, who, according to Hollingsworth, never lose sight of the importance of their mission.

“The mission at CILHI is to go worldwide and collect our brave soldiers who have died so we can take them back for identification and return to their loved ones,” he explained.
The recovery team exhumed and packaged the remains after doing preliminary identification in the field.  Although their anthropologist was able to discern the information on six sets of dog tags, further work will be done with dental records and DNA samples from next of kin, Hollingsworth said.

Although the work of identifying the twenty Raiders has only just begun, the recovery of the remains and the effort expended to bring them back to American soil was the most important thing to many members of Due Regard.

“This let young Marines see the government spares no expense to bring these guys home 57 years after the fact,” King said.  “It makes them have faith that if something happened to them, the government would do the same.”

For some of the members of the color guard, just being picked to participate in the ceremony was an honor.

“Of all the Marines who could have come out here, it was my buddies and me from Okinawa who were picked,” said rifle bearer for the color guard, Lance Cpl. Jonathon E. Rosenberg, Materiel Readiness Bn., 3rd Force Service Support Group.  “This is a big part of Marine Corps history, and it was amazing to be a part of it.”

The Okinawa Marines carried their fallen brothers to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii for a formal repatriation ceremony, bringing them back to American soil after 57 years.


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