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Marine Corps vet pays $30K of his own money to bring fallen brothers home

The Vietnam veteran was left to front the bill for months when government money temporarily dried up.

Mike Valerio

Published: 4/26/2018 8:54:08 PM
Updated: 6:24 PM EST January 10, 2019

On a South Pacific island where the wounds of war mar majestic beaches, 444 Americans from World War II are still missing, buried under sand or claimed by the lagoon.

The phrase “no one left behind” is tested here on Tarawa, like nowhere else.

Remains of American dead from November 1943 are still found today on the secluded Pacific atoll, a world away from the dignified marble graves of Arlington National Cemetery.

Skeletons are unearthed near scenes of staggering poverty, feet from pig pens, and in some instances, left in repose under garbage.

The Battle of Tarawa was fought on a sandbar the size of the National Mall, 7,000 miles from Washington, D.C. The U.S. declared victory in three days, after a Japanese admiral boasted it would take a century to conquer the island.

But 74 years after nearly 1,000 U.S. troops lost their lives on Tarawa, the Americans of our time face fading memories and significant sacrifices tied to the challenges of finding the fallen.

In late 2017, a Marine Corps veteran poured tens of thousands of dollars of his own money into the effort in order to pay the anthropologists who unearth the lost remains of Tarawa.

The Vietnam veteran was left to front the bill for months when government money temporarily dried up.

The funding frustrations are traced back to the defense sequester of 2013, with the Pentagon at one point forced to cut more than a third of its MIA recovery operations.

The drawback impacted a valuable mission, with previously unreported data revealing Tarawa yields the most success in terms of finding American remains overseas.

The passage of the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill in March now offers renewed optimism, with an influx of money to Tarawa secured for one year.

But with the Battle of Tarawa largely faded from the public consciousness and prioritized below other pressing defense recovery missions, the Americans who return to the island continue the tenuous task of unearthing fallen brothers, left behind for two generations.

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