After Three Fourths Of A Century, This Marine Is Finally Home

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Roll Call: Marine Pfc. Larry R. Roberts. Accounted For!

It has been 74 years since Pfc. Larry R. Roberts stormed the beaches on Betio Island in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands in November of 1943. He was serving with the Special Weapons Group, 2nd Defense Battalion, Fleet Marine Force when he and thousands of his fellow Marines went ashore against a fierce and determined Japanese defense. Roberts was killed in action on Nov. 25, 1943 and was buried there on Betio Island with fellow Marines who fell during that battle.

Tarawa, including the fight on Betio Island was a bloody battle. Approximately 1,000 Marines died in the fight for those little islands in the Gilbert Island group. Over 2,000 were injured in the effort.

The most famous of those islands was, of course, Tarawa. That is the name most people recognize. But the battle on Betio Island in the same atoll was as fierce as that at Tarawa.

Source: Wikimedia Commons Tarawa Atoll

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Tarawa Atoll

Tarawa, and the other islands of the Gilbert group were important stepping stones that had to be taken in order to advance against the Japanese mainland. It provided an important staging area for the assault against the Marshall and the Caroline Islands. The intensity of the Japanese defense matched that of so many of the later island assaults in the Pacific Theater of the war.

When the battle was over those who were killed in action on the islands were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries. It would not be until 1946 and 1947, after the war was over, that the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Co. would conduct efforts to recover remains of the fallen on Betio Island. But Robert’s remains were not among those recovered. On October 11, 1949, his remains were officially declared un-recoverable.

Source: Wikimedia Commons U.S. Base tents on Betio Tarawa

Source: Wikimedia Commons
U.S. Base tents on Betio Tarawa

In June of 2015, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called History Flight, Inc. notified the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, (DPAA) that they had found a gravesite on Betio Island and had recovered the remains of as many as 35 Marines. They turned those remains over to the DPAA in July of that same year. That began a two-year process by the DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Laboratory to try to identify those remains.

They used the latest in DNA technologies to do this. They used mitochondrial DNA to match the remains with the list of those still listed as missing in action on Betio Island. They were able to match some of Roberts’ mitochondrial DNA with a living nephew. But they also used the latest in dental and anthropological analysis techniques, as well as circumstantial and material evidence to make the identification of Roberts’ remains.

Source: U.S. Marines Pfc. Larry R. Roberts

Source: U.S. Marines
Pfc. Larry R. Roberts

Pfc. Roberts name has been removed from the list of 73,057 who are still MIA from WWII. He has come home to his family and to his nation. He will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery next week on June 14, 2017.

The Veterans Site wishes to send its condolences to the family of Pfc Larry R. Roberts. We want to express our respect and honor for the ultimate sacrifice he made in bravely fighting to defend the nation and the world from the threat of Japanese Imperialism during the darkest days of WWII in the Pacific.

Semper Fi, Marine! Welcome Home! Rest in Peace now in your native soil.

To read more about History Flight’s work in returning the remains of American soldiers, click the button below.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.