Howard P. Brisbane was a Navy medic missing in action for more than 70 years. He was killed by a Japanese sniper during the Battle of Tarawa, on a faraway island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

But Brisbane’s story came back into focus in 2017, after his descendants said they never knew he was missing in action.

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United States Navy

“Some of my earliest memories have Howard in them,” recalled Judy Landry, Brisbane’s niece who joined her brothers John and Byron for a June interview. “He was an identical twin, and I knew he and his brother would always play tricks on girls. One would make a date and the other would show up instead.”

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He was from Birmingham, Ala., moving with his family to the charming homes of Arabella Street in New Orleans by the 1940s, the neighborhood where his family lives to this day.

Brisbane had deep brown eyes, and dreamed of becoming an artist. Drawings lined the walls of his home, and when he took a break, he brought Judy down the sun-splashed streets near the banks of the Mississippi – walks with just the two of them through the park.

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He joined the Navy seven months after Pearl Harbor, eventually becoming a medic who fought alongside the Marines.

Halfway across the world, the farthest he'd ever been from home, a sniper ended Brisbane's life as the Battle of Tarawa got underway.

The man who was born the day after Christmas died just days before Thanksgiving 1943. He was 21 years old.

He remained in a mass grave for more than 70 years, forgotten on a tiny island in the Pacific. That is, until the private citizens of History Flight stepped up.

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They brought cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar to a working Tarawa seaport in 2015.

The team used archival maps with current images from Google Earth to narrow the location of Brisbane’s cemetery. It led them to a gravel parking lot.

Their excavation on the site proved successful, recovering Brisbane’s nearly complete skeleton. The find was part of the largest recovery of missing in action troops in U.S. history.

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Remains of Howard Brisbane, excavated in a Pacific grave.
Brisbane / Landry Family

On June 9, 2017, Howard Pascal Brisbane finally made it to the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery.

His niece and nephews gathered there to welcome him home.

But they were unaware on that day that his remains were previously unmarked, found below grime and gravel, truck traffic and cargo.

Read how this happened and what a government official had to say, but clicking here for WUSA9's full exclusive report.