The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, recently accounted-for from World War II, are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Ray James, 21, of Sylvarena, Mississippi, will be buried September 22, in his hometown. In November 1943, James was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 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. James was killed on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943.
Despite the heavy casualties suffered by U.S. forces, military success in 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, the American Graves Registration Service recovered approximately 36 sets of remains originally buried in Cemetery #33, including remains designated “Unknown X-163.” They conducted remains recovery operations on Betio, but James’ remains were not recovered. By 1949, the remains that had not been identified were interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP) in Honolulu.
In January 2017, DPAA disinterred Tarawa Unknown X-163 from the NMCP and sent the remains to the laboratory for analysis.
To identify James’ remains, scientists from DPAA used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, which matched his records, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
DPAA is appreciative to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs for their partnership in this mission.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 73,007 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. James’ name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at an American Battle Monuments Commission site along with the other MIAs from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.