Makin RaidersFor nearly six decades the family of Marine Cpl. Robert Pearson never knew he was killed in action on a remote tropical atoll during the early months of the Pacific War after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
get heros burial
13 Marines missing since
World War II will be honored
in a ceremony at Arlington
By Gregg K. Kakesako
"My father and his brother were separated when they were toddlers," said Terilyn Stephens, who is Pearson's great-niece. "They were adopted by different families, and even though my grandfather knew his brother had served in the military in the war, he had lost all contact with him.
"He did tell us that he thought something might have happened to him," Stephens said.
Pearson died in August 1942 during the first Marine raid in the Pacific, but his remains and those of 18 fellow Marines were recovered only about two years ago.
This morning, Stephens placed a bouquet of red and white anthuriums on her great uncle's flag-draped casket as a Marine honor guard prepared to load it and the caskets containing the remains of 12 other Marine Makin Raiders onto a C-130 aircraft for a final journey to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
On Friday, Pearson and other raiders, including Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Clyde Thomason, will be given a hero's burial in Arlington, on the 59th anniversary of the first amphibious raid of the Pacific campaign.
Stephens said nine other family members plan to be at Arlington on Friday when Gen. James Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps, will be the guest speaker at a memorial service at the Fort Meyer Army chapel.
At departure ceremonies this morning, Sen. Daniel Inouye recalled that 59 years ago, "these brave Marines took the offensive and made the ultimate sacrifice."
He added: "This is a testament that there is no statute of limitations on honor... It is never too late to do what is right."
Brig. Gen. John Castellaw, Marine Forces Pacific Deputy Commander, said the Makin raiders "provided hope and inspiration to the entire nation," at the onset of the war when things looked the worst after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He said the commitment by the military to recover the Makin raiders is a continued fulfillment of a pledge "to never leave a Marine behind on a battlefield."
The search for the Makin Raiders on Makin Atoll, now known as Butaritari and is part of the Kiribati nation, began in earnest in 1998.
The Central Identification Laboratory, the Army's premiere forensic facility, sent investigators there at the urging of friends, relatives and members of the U.S. Marine Raider Association. They searched where Kiribati residents told of two possible gravesites.
The remains were recovered in December 1999 from Makin Atoll, located in the former Gilbert Islands, by the Army's Central Identification Laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base and positively identified a year later. Six sets have already been returned to their families for burial.
On Aug. 17, 1942, Marine Col. Evans Carlson and two companies of his 2nd Marine Raiders battalion landed on Makin, the largest island of the group. His second-in-command was Maj. James Roosevelt, son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The purpose of the amphibious raid -- launched from two submarines -- was to destroy the Japanese force of 200, as well as its communications and supplies.
During the two-day battle, the raiders killed about 83 Japanese soldiers, but ran into trouble because of high surf when they tried to leave the island.
Eighteen Marines were killed and 12 were reported missing in action. Seven of the missing were believed to have been taken captive, and five were believed to have been killed when the rubber boat they were using to return to the submarines capsized in the rough surf. At least nine of the Raiders were taken to Kwajalein, where they were executed in October 1942. A mission to Kwajalein to recover those bodies may take place next year.
Thomason was killed in initial action, drawing fire from the Japanese while directing the fire of his platoon, turning back a counterattack. He was the first enlisted Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Stephens said her grandfather -- Fred Emden, now 85 -- served in the Navy on submarines in World War II, but never saw his brother.
"He didn't know until last December where and when his brother had died," she said. "It was a very emotional trip when he came here in January. It was first trip to Hawaii since the war."
The 13 Raiders who will be honored Friday are Capt. Gerald Holtom, Sgt. Clyde Thomason, Field Musician 1st Class Vernon Castle, Cpl. Daniel Gaston, Cpl. Edward Maciejewski, Cpl. Robert Pearson, Pfc. William Gallagher, Pfc. Kenneth Montgomery, Pfc. John Vandenberg, Pvt. Carlyle Larson, Pvt. Robert Maulding, Pvt. Franklin Nodland and Pvt. Charles Selby.