American Soldiers’ Remains, Historic Flag From WWII Finally Make It Home

World War II ended 74 years ago with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. Germany surrendered in May 1945. Japan surrendered several months later.

Many decades have passed since then. But full closure has never been felt for some Americans.

The remains of many service members are still in Europe and Asia. As are some American symbols of the global conflict which took an estimated 70 to 85 million lives.

Fortunately, some closure has recently been experienced. In the form of the return of service member remains and a sacred symbol of our country.

Remains Delivered to Hawaii

On July 17, the remains of 22 American service members were brought back to U.S. soil. They came from Betio Island and surrounding areas in the Pacific Ocean.

U.S. Air Force plane carried them and landed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

The remains were within caskets draped with American flags. U.S. Marines carried the caskets off the plane during a ceremony.

The next step is for forensic archaeologists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to identify the remains. And then notify next of kin.

History Flight Responsible

The remains are thought to belong to members of the 6th Marine regiment. They would have died during the last day of the 76-hour Battle of Tarawa. That’s according to the Defense Department.

How were these remains discovered so long after the battle? History Flight was responsible.

This non-profit group has now helped bring home more than 270 individuals from that battle site.

The Defense Department estimates that the remains of more than 72,000 Americans who died during World War II are still unaccounted for.

Deadly First Pacific Offensive

The Battle of Tarawa began on November 20, 1943. Some 18,000 U.S. Marines and sailors were involved. Mostly on Betio Island, about 2,400 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor.

Some 1,000 of them were killed and about 2,000 injured in the four-day battle. Approximately 3,000 Japanese soldiers and 1,000 Korean laborers also died in the fighting.

This was the first American offensive in the central Pacific region. It was also the first time the U.S. encountered fierce Japanese opposition.

The Japanese had been working for nearly a year to fortify the island. It’s located in the southwest of Tarawa Atoll.

Island Secured… at a Price

The island was secured for the Allied Forces. But as always, there was a price. Here’s how part of a DPAA statement reads.

“Servicemen killed in action were buried where they fell. Or placed in large trench burials constructed during and after the battle.

“These graves were typically marked with improvised markers. Such as crosses made from sticks, or an upturned rifle.”

One of the challenges for the DPAA in recovering U.S. servicemen’s remains was that some were comingled with the Japanese.

‘The Ultimate Sacrifice’

Richard V. Spencer is Acting U.S. Defense Secretary. Here’s what he said when the remains arrived on U.S. soil.

“We welcome home more than 22 American servicemen still unaccounted for from the Battle of Tarawa during World War II.

“We do not forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. And it is our duty and obligation to return our missing home to their families and the nation.”

With the caskets in full view, “Taps” was played. Service members and guests stood silently in respect.

War-Torn WWII Flag Returns

Sometimes what is recovered from a World War II site is not as precious as a human life. But rather an important symbol of our nation.

Such is the case for the tattered American flag that finally made it back to the U.S. recently. It was ripped by the wind and riddled with German bullets.

The flag that flew on the first U.S. invading ship on D-Day – June 6, 1944 – was unveiled in a White House ceremony on July 17.

Now it is back home where it belongs. It will be displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Art Collector Donates Flag

The flag has been owned for the past three years by retired Dutch businessman and art collector Bret Kreuk. He got the flag at auction for $514,000. With the intention of donating it to the U.S.

He said, “I cannot keep it myself. It needs to go to the right institution. I need to give it back.”

The flag was officially handed over at the White House by Mark Rutte. He is prime minister of The Netherlands.

President Donald Trump accepted the flag with this comment: “It is my honor to welcome this great American flag back home where it belongs.”

The president also called it a “reminder of the supreme sacrifice of our warriors. And the beautiful friendship between the Dutch and the American people.”

Flag Has a Rich History

The 48-star flag was originally flown by the U.S. Navy’s Landing Craft Control 60. This was one of three advance ships that directed troops onto Utah Beach on the Normandy coast.

The ship had a 14-member crew. They were commanded by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Howard Vander Beek.

This ship was the only one of the three to complete its mission during a very chaotic D-Day.

Vander Beek brought the flag home from the war and kept it in his Iowa basement until he passed away in 2014.

Fortunately, this treasured American flag wound up in the hands of someone who understood where it truly belongs.

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