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U.S. Buries 13 Marines Who Died 59 Years Ago

August 18, 2001

U.S. Buries 13 Marines Who Died 59 Years Ago


WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 -- The remains of 13 marines killed in World War II were buried today under gray skies at Arlington National Cemetery, 59 years to the day after they fell in battle on a South Pacific atoll.

The sun broke through the clouds just after a Marine bugler finished playing taps and a chaplain led a prayer with family members and others at the service.

"They're finally home, which is where I want to be when I die," said Capt. Joe Griffith, 81, the sole remaining officer of the dead men's unit, the Second Raider Battalion. "They were good men and volunteers who did something over and above the call of duty."

The marines were killed on Aug. 17, 1942, in a raid on the Japanese- held Makin atoll, now known as Butaritari, in the Gilbert Islands. Their bodies, left on the small coral reef island after the two-day raid, were buried together by local residents.

An unsuccessful effort to recover the bodies was made in 1949. The search was renewed in 1998 by relatives of men from the Second Raider Battalion and World War II veterans. Two years ago, the bodies were recovered and identified after searchers found an island resident who, as a young boy, had helped bury them.

Six bodies were returned to families for burial. The remaining 13 marines were flown on Thursday from Hawaii to Andrews Air Force Base, where they were met by relatives and members of the United States Marine Raider Association.

The flag-draped coffins were taken in hearses to Arlington.

Among those at the service today was Vivian Yoder of Hemet, Calif., whose brother, Vernon Castle, was being buried.

"It will really provide closure after all of these years," said Ms. Yoder, 78. "But there is something about military funerals that is always hard to take."

Another of the 13 buried at Arlington was Sgt. Clyde Thomason, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

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