Marine Comes Home From Tarawa Over 70 Years Later

Posted on May 25th, 2016 by:

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Marine Comes Home From Tarawa Over 70 Years Later

On November 20, 1943, Marine Pfc. James Johnson was killed on the island of Tarawa. He was buried in one of the multiple battlefield cemeteries on the island, but after the war, the military was unable to locate his remains.



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Marine Private First Class James Johnson (Photo via Johnson family)

In June 2015, History Flight Inc., a nongovernmental organization, located a burial site on Tarawa of what they believed were the remains of 35 Marines. The group turned the remains over to the U.S. Government’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for DNA analysis.

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Dec. 26, 1943 announcement of the death of Pfc. James Johnson. (Photo via Poughkeepsie Journal archives)

Scientists at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory were able to positively identified Johnson’s remains, who now, over 70 years after his death, will be buried in a special ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Found with Johnson were a rosary ring, a St. Christopher Cross, coins and other small items he carried with him the day he stormed ashore on Tarawa.

For his nephew Jim Johnson, born five years after his uncle’s death, these small mementos brought a personnel connection to the relative he never had a chance to meet.

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Marines take cover from heavy Japanese fire on Red Beach on Tarawa

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Marine casualties on one of Tarawa’s beaches

Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands was the first objective to be taken in the Central Pacific campaign. The island had been heavily fortified by the Japanese. Rear Admiral Keiji Shibazaki, commander of the Japanese Garrison on Tarawa stated “it would take one million men one hundred years” to conquer the island. It took the US 2nd Marine Division only 76 hours to capture Tarawa, but at a heavy price. Over 1000 Marines were killed and another 2000 wounded during the battle. Virtually the entire Japanese garrison died in the fighting.

Pfc. James Johnson was just 19 years old at the time of his death.



For More About the Battle of Tarawa Check out:

Tarawa: The Incredible Story of One of World War II’s Bloodiest Battles


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One thought on “Marine Comes Home From Tarawa Over 70 Years Later

  • So very glad this Marine has returned home to his family & friends. Tarawa was one hellacious battle. Survival was largely a crapshoot. Rest In Peace, PFC Johnson.
    Semper Fidelis

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