Two sets of remains are off-loaded at a repatriation ceremony held at Hickam Air Force Base Dec. 17th.


Makin Atoll Raiders’ bodies discovered after nearly 60 years

By Sgt. Kane Walsh, Marine Forces Pacific Public Affairs

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- Remains believed to be those of  20 U.S. Marines killed in action on Butaritari Island during World War II's Makin Atoll Raid in August, 1942, were repatriated at a ceremony here Dec. 17.

The Marines were from the famous 2nd Raider Battalion, a commando organization specializing in amphibious landings.  One of the Marine Raiders killed in action during the Makin Atoll raid was Sgt. Clyde Thomason, the first enlisted Marine awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II.  The medal was presented posthumously for his actions on Butaritari.

“Marines are Marines whether or not they are living or dead – that’s the tie that binds us together as Marines,” said retired Marine sergeant major and Medal of Honor recipient Allan J. Kellogg Jr., an attendee at the repatriation ceremony.  “We’re going to keep working until they are all back.”

The U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI) conducted a series of three search and recovery efforts beginning in August, 1998.  According to CILHI officials, the recovery of remains on Butaritari represents the largest and potentially the most significant recovery to date.  For two Marines who participated in the excavation as part of CILHI, its significance would be difficult to overstate.

“At the end of every day, I was run down, tired, hot and sweaty,” said GySgt. Darrell E. Farringer.  “But then every morning I woke up feeling confident and determined.  We were going to find them and bring those Marines home.”

Eighteen Marines were killed and 12 were declared missing following the historic landing in 1942 -- the first such use of the newly created Marine Raiders.  Personally led by one of the founders of the Raiders, then-Maj. Evans Carlson, two companies of Marine Raiders battled the Japanese force holding Butaritari, leaving at least 83 enemy dead and destroying two seaplanes. 

The son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Maj. James Roosevelt, also participated in the raid, and, along with the other surviving Marine Raiders, successfully withdrew by rubber boats to awaiting U.S. Navy submarines. 

Nine of the missing 12 Raiders were captured and executed by Japanese soldiers on Kwajalein.  Due to the difficult withdrawal from the island and problems with communications, the missing men weren’t even known to be missing until weeks later.  By then, it was too late.

“It was an honor to be a part of something like this,” said Capt. Thomas Wood, the commander of troops for the ceremony.  “It was very humbling to be standing out there thinking about the sacrifices these Marines made.”

Although the remains are believed to be those of the Marines killed in action on Butaritari, CILHI officials will conduct examinations to positively identify them.  According to officials at CILHI, positive identification can take more than a year to complete.

“This has been probably the most important mission I’ve been on,” said Capt. David McMullen, a co-pilot of the KC-130R from VMGR-152 that brought the remains home.


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