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Marine Corps repatriation ceremony held during 75th Battle of Tarawa Anniversary

By Lance Cpl. Brennan Priest | III Marine Expeditionary Force | December 4, 2018

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U.S. military members from Marine Forces Pacific Command, American officials and distinguished guests from partner nations gathered to remember fallen U.S. troops during a repatriation ceremony on Nov. 21, 2018, on the Island of Betio, Tarawa Atoll, Republic of Kiribati. The remains of the troops were honorably transferred back to the U.S.

“This is one of the most storied battles in Marine Corps history,” said Capt. Nicholas Boivin, a military planner with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. “This is what we learn in boot camp and officer training school. The least we can do for the sacrifices that these Marines made is give them an appropriate way home.”

The DPAA’s mission is to recover military members remains from all over the globe and return them to the U.S.

The repatriation gives families a chance for closure, and brings our heroes back home to American soil. It shows the strength and partnership that has been forged with the host nation and our allies.

The Battle of Tarawa was one of the most bloody conflicts of World War II. The attack began just after 5:00am with heavy artillery bombardment from naval gunfire and bombing runs. The first Marines landed just after 9:00am.

The Japanese were well-entrenched on the island and fought fiercely. The American Amphibious Tractor Vehicles were able to cross the shallow coral reefs to shore. However, most of the landing crafts got stuck on the reef due to abnormally low tides, and the Marines were forced to wade 500 or more yards to shore under intense enemy fire.

Much of the Marine’s communications equipment was ruined by the salt water, and made it difficult to communicate. U.S. Forces moved forward on the beach taking the island inch by inch.

By the second day, the tides had returned to normal and reinforcements were able to get ashore and organize the battle. The Marines surged inland and destroyed the enemies entrenchments. The combat was close quarters, often hand to hand.

On the third day, the Japanese lead a final Banzai attack and fought to there last man. The U.S. only captured 17 Prisoners of War.

In just 76 hours the Marines took Tarawa, however, it cost over 1,000 lives and over 2,000 wounded.

“Tarawa is very important to us as a Marine Corps,” said Brig. Gen. Sean Salene, the Assistant Wing Commander of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. “It lives in all the annals of all the important battles that defines or legacy. It lives on in the hearts of the young Marines, The names of the fallen will live forever as long as we, who are honored to be Marines today, carry on the eternal values of Honor, Courage and Commitment.”

The ceremony was attended by Brig. Gen. Sean Salene, Sgt. Maj. Michael Pritchard, Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz, Charge d’ Affaires Michael Goldman with the U.S. Embassy Suva, Counsellor and Deputy Chief of Mission Tsuguyoshi Hada with the Embassy of Japan and the the President Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Republic of Kiribati Taneti Maamau along with other distinguished guests.
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