|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
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
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
“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
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.