Jan. 6, 2017 —
Marine Corps Reserve 2nd Lt. Ernest Matthews, missing from World War II, has now been identified.
In November 1943, Matthews was assigned to Headquarters Company, Headquarters Battalion, Division Special Troops, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands, in an attempt to secure the island. Over several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, but the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Matthews died on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943.
Despite the heavy casualties suffered by U.S. forces, military success in the battle of Tarawa was a huge victory for the U.S. military because the Gilbert Islands provided the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet a platform from which to launch assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands to advance their Central Pacific Campaign against Japan.
In the immediate aftermath of the fighting on Tarawa, U.S. service members who died in the battle were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries on the island. In 1946 and 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio, but Matthews’ remains were not recovered. In 1949, a military review board declared Matthews’ remains non-recoverable.
In June 2015, a nongovernmental organization, History Flight, Inc., notified DPAA that they discovered a burial site on Betio Island and recovered the remains of what they believed were 35 U.S. Marines who fought during the battle in November 1943. The remains were turned over to DPAA in July 2015.
Laboratory analysis and circumstantial evidence were used in the identification of his remains.
Interment services are pending.