It was November 1943. He was 21 years old. For more than 70 years, Dale Geddes’s remains were buried on the island of Betio, where he was killed in the battle of Tarawa..
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 sergeant 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 site, though small, was strategically important to the Americans, who took the Pacific Ocean location. “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.
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.
On behalf of the members of The Greatest Generations Foundation and our grateful nation, we salute you for loyalty and sacrifice for our freedom.
Remember Those Who Served
The Greatest Generations Foundation