The Defense POW/MIA
Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S.
serviceman, unaccounted for since World War II, have been identified and are
being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Marine Pfc. James B. Johnson of Poughkeepsie, New York, will be buried May 31
in Arlington National Cemetery. In November 1943, Johnson was assigned
to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, which landed
against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa
Atoll of the Gilbert Islands, in an attempt to secure the island. Over
several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and
sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, but the Japanese were
virtually annihilated. Johnson died sometime on the first day of
battle, Nov. 20, 1943.
The battle of Tarawa was a huge victory for the U.S. military because the
Gilbert Islands provided the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet a platform from which to
launch assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands to advance their Central
Pacific Campaign against Japan.
In the immediate aftermath of the fighting on Tarawa, U.S. service members
who died in the battle were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries on
the island. In 1946 and 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration
Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio Island, but Johnson’s
remains were not recovered. On Feb. 28, 1949, a military review board
declared Johnson’s remains non-recoverable.
In June 2015, a nongovernmental organization, History Flight, Inc., notified
DPAA that they discovered a burial site on Betio Island and recovered the
remains of what they believed were 35 U.S. Marines who fought during the
battle in November 1943. The remains were turned over to DPAA in July 2015.
To identify Johnson’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA
Identification Laboratory used Y-Short Tandem Repeat DNA analysis, which
matched a nephew; laboratory analysis, including dental analysis, chest
radiograph comparison, and anthropological comparison, which matched
Johnson’s records; as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
DPAA is grateful to History Flight, Inc. for this recovery mission.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000
died during the war.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for
Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website
at www.dpaa.mil or call 703- 699-1420.