OCEANO, Calif. (AP) — The remains of a U.S. Marine will be returned home to California's Central Coast nearly 74 years after he was killed in a bloody World War II battle in the Pacific.
The remains of Pfc. George B. Murray will be flown from Hawaii to Los Angeles on Wednesday and buried Friday with honors in Arroyo Grande near his hometown of Oceano, where a "Welcome Home" sign is already standing outside an old railroad depot that is now a community center and local history museum.
"You were never forgotten," it says.
Murray, whose casket will be escorted by motorcyclists of the Patriot Guard Riders on the long drive north from Los Angeles, will be buried in the same grave site as his mother, Edith.
"June 6 they called and said we found your uncle, they found him," nephew George Winslett, whose DNA helped identify Murray, told KCOY-TV (http://bit.ly/2vFVGeP).
"My grandmother never gave up until the day she died. My mother and aunt were the same way," he recalled.
Recovering Murray was a longtime effort of Oceano Depot curator Linda Austin, who linked up Winslett with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
"I'd come in here and look at his picture and say, 'We're gonna find you. You're comin' home,'" Austin told KSBY-TV (http://bit.ly/2wKPsdJ).
Murray was just 20 when he was killed on Nov. 20, 1943, as Marines landed against strong Japanese resistance on the tiny, coral reef-ringed island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands.
About 1,000 Marines and sailors died and more than 2,000 were wounded in several days of furious fighting that ultimately resulted in victory.
The U.S. dead were immediately buried in battlefield cemeteries on Betio.
Murray's remains were not located in a recovery operation that was conducted between 1946 and 1947.
All remains found on Tarawa at that time were sent to a laboratory in Hawaii for identification. In 1949 those that could not be identified were interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, the defense agency said.
A recovery team went back to Betio, now part of the Republic of Kiribati, in 2010. Local police turned over possible human remains, which were sent to the identification lab.
Murray's remains were finally identified through the DNA match, as well as analysis of dental anthropological and chest X-ray comparisons.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, there are more than 73,000 American service members still not accounted for from World War II.