CINCINNATI A Marine from Cincinnati who died during the Battle of Tarawa was accounted for in July, nearly 77 years after he was killed, according to the U.S. Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Frank L. Athon, Jr. will come home to the continental United States where he'll be buried this November, the release states.
Athon was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, which arrived at the island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands in November of 1943 during World War II, the release states. Their mission was to secure the island.
Athon died on the third day of battle, according to the release, on Nov. 22, 1943. He was 29.
The Cincinnati Enquirer, part of the USA TODAY Network, announced Athon's death on Christmas Eve in 1943. The article noted Athon was survived by his wife Marcella Athon in Cincinnati, where his parents also lived.
Athon's family published notes memorializing him in The Cincinnati Enquirer in the years following his death. He was known as "Bud," the family wrote.
During the week of his one year death anniversary, Athon's sisters published the following note in The Enquirer:
We often think we see your smiling face
As you bade your last good-by –
And left our home forever,
In a distant land to die!
Always Loved and Remembered by Your
Two Sisters, Helen and Mary
Approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed during the Battle of Tarawa, and more than 2,000 others were wounded. The Battle of Tarawa was over in four days and marked an early American victory in the U.S.'s Central Pacific Campaign against Japan.
Declared 'non-recoverable' in 1949
Officials said Athon was buried in Row D of the East Division Cemetery. That burial site was later renamed Cemetery 33.
But when the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company centralized American remains found on Tarawa for repatriation, nearly half of the known casualties were never found. The release states Athon, alongside others whose remains could not be located, was declared "non-recoverable" in October of 1949.
Sixty years later, a nonprofit organization entitled History Flight, Inc., discovered a burial site on Betio Island believed to be Cemetery 33. The site has undergone numerous excavations since 2009, and last March excavations west of Cemetery 33 revealed a forgotten burial site now identified as Row D, according to the release.
Remains recovered at Row D were transferred to a DPAA Laboratory in Hawaii. There, scientists were able to identify Athon's remains through dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
Athon was memorialized in the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. A rosette will now be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Officials said Athon will be buried in Philadelphia on Nov. 21.