Marine Corps Pfc. Randolph Allen, whose remains were recovered after more than 70 years beneath the sands of Tarawa by a History Flight team, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on July 28. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge will preside.
Allen, a member of F Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, was killed on Nov. 20, 1943, the first-day of a brutal, bloody 76-hour battle to take a heavily fortified Japanese airfield on the island of Betio.
More than 1,000 Marines and U.S. Navy sailors were killed during the battle, along with more than 5,000 Japanese Marines — rikusentai — and their Korean laborers. The bodies were hastily buried due to rapid decay in tropical conditions, but the location of hundreds of graves were lost in the subsequent efforts to rebuild the airstrip and construct an American base on Betio.
A U.S. Army Graves Registration mission in 1946 recovered more than 500 bodies and repatriated them to the United States. In 1949, the military officially declared all the rest — including that of my grandfather and Medal of Honor recipient 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr. — “non-recoverable.”
However, History Flight, Inc., a Florida-based nonprofit founded by Mark Noah, has since 2007 worked tirelessly, through its own recovery teams and advising and assisting the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, to recover the more than 500 Marines still buried on the islet. To date, the group’s efforts have resulted in the recovery and thorough documentation of more than 30 intact sets of such “non-recoverable” American remains, which have been turned over to the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii.