Just before Thanksgiving 1943, the Battle of Tarawa began on a remote island halfway across the world. American troops ran into trouble immediately as they fought to take the atoll away from the Japanese.
In all, 961 American servicemen were killed in the primary attack. Today, 452 of them are still missing.
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After the battle ended, the survivors dug trenches. They placed the dead side-by-side, burying them quickly. There was no time to fly men back to Arlington. A war needed to be won.
But only days later, their gravesites were gone. The servicemembers’ cemeteries became a gravel road and parking lot, first paved by Americans.
They remained there decades later, forgotten under piles of trash and pig pens.
That is—until History Flight came along.
PHOTOS: Excavating WWII servicemembers on Tarawa
It was founded by D.C. native Mark Noah 14 years ago. His work made him an honorary Marine after his team found more than 100 Marines on Tarawa and returned them to America.
“You can’t find what you’re looking for unless you’re standing on top of it,” Noah said in an interview. “With every individual that we bring back to America, we’re bringing people back here from another era. We’re helping restore their dignity. We’re giving closure to their families.”
When funds meant to help recover missing servicemen started declining, non-profits like History Flight began to fill the void.
After Mark Noah of History Flight financed the recovery mission to find Brisbane’s grave, DPAA reimbursed the non-profit for the excavation effort. Noah continued to use his own money to begin one of this year’s excavations, requesting reimbursement from the government.
But Noah and his team said the government contracts and funding they need to finish their work, simply do not exist.
If you would like to learn more about History Flight and contribute to their cause, click here for more information.