More than 75 years after a Marine from Stilwell died in what has been described as the toughest battle in Marine Corps history, and 70 years after his remains were declared “non-recoverable,” he was finally found.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced last week that Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Alfred Edwards, 33, killed during the World War II Battle of Tarawa in 1943, was accounted for in late August.
Edwards was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, which landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll in an attempt to secure the Gilbert Islands, according to a DPAA news release.
The fighters met stiff Japanese resistance, and over several days of intense warfare about 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded.
Edwards was killed on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943, according to the release. His remains were reportedly buried in a cemetery on Betio Island, but when all of the American remains on Tarawa were centralized for later repatriation, almost half of the known casualties were never found, and no recovered remains could be associated with Edwards. A Board of Review declared him “non-recoverable” in 1949.
The remains that could not be identified were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, including two sets designated as Tarawa Unknown X-203 and X-209.
The DPAA disinterred X-203 in March 2017 and X-209 in April 2017, and anthropologists determined the two sets were associated with each other, the release states.
“To identify Edwards’ remains, scientists from DPAA used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence,” the release states. “Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA analysis.”
Edwards was one of more than 400,000 Americans killed in World War II, and there remains more than 72,600 unaccounted for. The DPAA’s mission is to provide “the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation.”
Edwards’ name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others killed or lost in WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for, the release states.
His remains will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on a date not yet determined.