Dale Geddes was killed in World War II during the Battle of Tarawa.
It was November 1943. He was 21 years old.
For more than 70 years, Geddes’s remains were buried on the island of Betio, where he was killed. As time passed, it looked as though they might never be found and returned to his family, according to a local newspaper report.
But in 2015, a group told authorities that it had discovered a burial site on that island in the Pacific, according to a news release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The remains of several U.S. Marines were recovered at that site. And DNA testing has determined that Geddes was one of them.
“Dale is finally coming home,” Linda Elliott, a grandniece of Geddes, told the Grand Island Independent. “He is coming home to his parents. I know that I speak for the family to say that we are all very happy, very privileged, to witness the wishes of Dale’s parents and Dale’s siblings. Our boy is coming home.”
Staff Sgt. Kristen Duus of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency told The Post in a phone interview that Geddes’s remains were identified through DNA analysis.
“We used mitochondrial DNA, which traces the maternal line,” she said. “So that matched a niece of his.”
Officials also used lab analysis, including dental records, and “circumstantial evidence,” she said.
“All which matched up to his records,” Duus said.
Geddes’s remains weren’t located during a remains recovery operation on the island in the late 1940s, Duus said, and Geddes was declared “non-recoverable.” Then, in 2015, a group called History Flight discovered a burial site on the island. That’s where the remains were located, Duus said.
“In July, they turned those remains over to us,” Duus said. “So he was one of 35 sets of remains that were returned to us last summer.”
The Battle of Tarawa lasted for a few days in November, but in that brief span, thousands were killed or wounded.
The Tarawa atoll, though small, was strategically important to the Americans who captured it. “If American bombers wanted to reach Japan, they would need an air base in the Mariana Islands; to capture the Marianas, they would first need the Marshall Islands; and for the Marshalls, they needed Tarawa,” Wil S. Hylton wrote for the New York Times Magazine in 2013.
The islands were heavily fortified, though. Thousands of Japanese troops had been sent there. Bunkers had been constructed, Hylton wrote, and cannons were on the beaches. The war correspondent Robert Sherrod was with American forces that November and wrote about what he witnessed when the Marines disembarked.
In his New York Times Magazine piece, Hylton wrote:
They descended into amphibious landing vehicles and raced toward the beach, but the tide was out, and the water was too shallow for their boats. The Marines found themselves stranded on reefs, hundreds of yards offshore, wading through waist-high water as Japanese gunners mowed them down. Those lucky enough to reach the shore crawled through a maze of corpses. “No one who has not been there,” Sherrod wrote, “can imagine the overwhelming, inhuman smell of 5,000 dead who are piled and scattered in an area of less than one square mile.”
Later this month, Geddes will be buried next to his parents at a Nebraska cemetery, according to an online obituary. His family was told that he had died as he was “administering first aid to a buddy who was a fellow Marine,” the obituary states.
The Battle of Tarawa took place on Nov. 20 through 23, 1943, as American troops fought to capture the island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. About 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed, with another 2,000 wounded.
Geddes died sometime on the first day of the battle.
A March 17, 1944, article in The Grand Island Independent said Geddes “had removed first-aid materials from his kit and was about to bandage his buddy’s wounds when he was hit … probably by the same sniper who wounded his buddy.”
Geddes worked as a newspaper carrier in Grand Island, Neb., and later moved to Wyoming, where he continued to work for a local paper on the business side of the operation, according to the obituary. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1942, according to the Independent.
His burial service is scheduled for Aug. 22.
“We’re glad everyone can finally hear Dale’s story,” Elliott, Geddes’s grandniece, told the Independent. She called the news an “unexpected gift.”