Joe Tussey received the flag of his uncle, Pfc. Randolph Allen, a Marine killed while fighting in the Pacific during World War II.
Doug Mills • New York Times,
Kentucky Marine is finally at rest 71 years after the Battle of Tarawa
- Article by: DAVID S. JOACHIM
- New York Times
- July 30, 2014 - 10:35 PM
ARLINGTON, Va. – Pfc. Randolph Allen, 19, was among the more than 1,000 Marines who were killed during three days of intense fighting to capture the tiny island of Betio from the Japanese during World War II.
For seven decades, his body lay undiscovered along with about 500 of his fellow Marines and thousands of Japanese fighters who died in the Battle of Tarawa in 1943, their remains scattered across an overpopulated and impoverished dot in the Pacific.
But last fall, Allen’s remains were unearthed and identified, and on Tuesday the Rush, Ky., man was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors — including a colors team, a coffin team, a bugler and a firing party — as family members who never knew him looked on.
Allen’s nephew, Joe Tussey, received the burial flag, folded into the traditional tricorner shape. As the flag was placed in his lap, Tussey took off his dark glasses and wiped his eyes.
“Joe’s mother kept a picture of Randolph Allen on her fireplace on the mantel for her entire life,” said Mark Noah, an airline pilot and the founder of History Flight, the group that recovered Allen’s remains. “That was an unanswered question in their family history that they always wanted answered.”
Every year, the military identifies the remains of 60 to 80 service members who died in the last century’s wars. In all, 84,000 Americans are still missing — including 74,000 from World War II — but the remains of only about 35,000 of them are considered recoverable because they died on land.
Identifying the missing often relies on circumstantial evidence to identify remains — what they were wearing, what they were carrying, their height and weight, and, with any luck, dog tags.
Noah’s team was just so lucky, uncovering Allen’s dog tags and then his teeth, which provided the basis for a physical confirmation.
The Defense Department spends just a fraction of its half-trillion-dollar budget on the recovery of missing service members, so it has increasingly relied on private groups like History Flight to send teams of excavators to the sites of historic battles.
Search teams often rely on eyewitness accounts of battles to determine where to look. They also try to link personal effects to individuals by interviewing people who knew them. And so, as the World War II generation dies off, those clues are dying with them.
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