Howard P. Brisbane was a Navy medic killed during World War II, lost in the fierce Pacific fighting of the Battle of Tarawa.
Brisbane’s family knew he died on the beaches of a remote island, but they never knew he was considered “missing in action” for more than 70 years.
The sailor was technically missing because the United States government couldn’t find his grave site. Americans cleared and paved over where Brisbane was buried by 1944, in order to build a parking lot serving Tarawa’s island airbase.
“I was shocked, that they really didn’t know where he was all these years,” said Brisbane’s niece, Judy Landry in an interview. “I thought it was a dignified burial grave. I had no idea it was a place that doesn’t exist anymore.”
For two generations, Brisbane’s descendants thought the Navy sailor rested under a marked grave.
But that wasn’t the case – his grave was lost.
Brisbane’s family only learned he was missing in action after anthropologists from the non-profit group History Flight excavated the sailor’s remains in 2015. The Defense Department then contacted Brisbane’s relatives, asking the Navy corpsman’s nephew for a DNA test.
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Today, 452 American service members are still unrecovered from Tarawa, according to the Department of Defense.
But not all descendants may realize their fallen relatives are actually missing.
After reviewing online records, WUSA9 created a database of all missing in action service members from Tarawa. Most were killed in November 1943, during the primary attack.
But in contrast to the official figure of 452 lost Americans, current government records indicate 1,212 men are still missing on Tarawa – a discrepancy a Defense Department spokesman could not immediately explain.
A note on the website serving the Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency notes the Pentagon, “is in the process of upgrading these reports to a more consistent format.”
Below, all Tarawa missing in action service members are listed by state.
Please contact reporter Mike Valerio, by emailing email@example.com, if your relative appears on the list, and you did not know he was previously classified as missing.