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NEWS | Nov. 13, 2015

Tarawa Marine Returns Home 72 Years After the Battle

By Sgt. Erik Estrada U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific

HONOLULU - Marines from U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency performed a dignified transfer of remains, Nov. 12, 2015, for Cpl. Roger K. Nielson, a Marine killed during the WWII Battle of Tarawa.

The Battle of Tarawa took place Nov. 20 1943 on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll, and lasted until Nov. 23. More than 18,000 Marines were sent to capture the island, but coral reefs around the island caused difficulties for Marines during their initial amphibious assault.

Over three days of intense fighting, more than 1,000 Marines were killed and more than 2,000 wounded. Nielson, a Denver native assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division was reported killed in action on the first day of battle. 

Cpl. Nielson was recovered June of this year when History Flight, a privately owned organization working in cooperation with the DPAA, discovered a long-lost burial trench on Betio where the remains of what is believed to be 36 Marines from the battle were found. Amongst those remains was Medal of Honor recipient 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr., the first of the 36 to be identified and transferred to his hometown of Knoxvillle, Tennessee. Pfc James P. Reilly, was the second Marine sent home, to his hometown of Bushnell, Florida.

Now Nielson has been identified by scientists at DPAA laboratories through dental comparisons that matched, as well as circumstantial and material evidence. 

GySgt. Franklin Rivas, a Marine with Combat Logistics Battalion 453 and Nielson’s escort, is humbled to take the World War II Marine home.

“I feel honored to have been chosen to do this duty,” Rivas said. “Also the timing of the escort really hits my heart, because I’m escorting a veteran from World War II back home.”

Cpl. Nielson will now be returned to his family in Denver, where he will be buried Nov. 16, with full military honors.

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