News Releases

Marine Missing From World War II Accounted For (Reilly)

15-069 | November 02, 2015

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, unaccounted for since World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Marine Pfc. James P. Reilly, 20, of New York, will be buried Nov. 9 in Bushnell, Fla. In November 1943, Reilly was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll, in an attempt to secure the island. Over several days of intense fighting, approximately 1,000 Marines were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded. Reilly was reported killed on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943.

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 Island, but Reilly’s remains were not recovered. On Feb. 10, 1949, a military review board declared Reilly 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 36 U.S. Marines who fought during the battle in November 1943. The remains were turned over to DPAA in July 2015.

To identify Reilly’s remains, scientists from DPAA used laboratory analysis, to include dental comparisons, which matched Reilly’s records, as well as circumstantial and material evidence, and personal effects recovered during the recovery operations that correlated to Reilly.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil or call (703) 699-1420.