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Remains of Marine killed in WWII to be buried in KY

Posted at 9:46 AM, Dec 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-15 09:46:36-05

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A U.S. Marine who died in the battle for the Pacific Ocean island of Tarawa during World War II is scheduled to be buried Monday in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said the remains of Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. John R. Bayens were officially accounted for in September though analysis of dental evidence and other methods.

Bayens' remains arrived Friday in Louisville. The burial is scheduled for Monday at Evergreen Cemetery.

In honor of Bayens, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has directed flags at all state office buildings be lowered to half-staff Monday.

The 20-year old Bayens was part of a battalion attached to the 6th Marine Regiment that landed in an amphibious assault on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands in November 1943, officials said.

More than 990 U.S. Marines and 30 U.S. sailors were killed in the battle for Tarawa, located island about 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) southwest of Honolulu. Marines and sailors quickly encountered Japanese machine gunfire when their boats got stuck on the reef at low tide. Americans who made it to the beach faced brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Bayens was killed on the third day of battle, and his remains were reportedly buried in Cemetery 33 on Betio Island, officials said.

American remains found on Tarawa were centralized at Lone Palm Cemetery in 1946 for later repatriation, but almost half of the known casualties were never found, officials said.

Bayens' remains were declared nonrecoverable in 1949.

About 65 years later, the nonprofit History Flight identified Cemetery 33, and excavations of the site revealed multiple sets of remains. Remains were given to the POW/MIA agency, and Bayens was identified.

History Flight has recovered the remains of 68 individuals and more than 200 sets of partial remains from Tarawa since 2015, when it began excavating under a contract with the Defense Department, the agency said.