WASHINGTON— The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, accounted-for from World War II, are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Merton R. Riser, 19, of Sanborn, Iowa, accounted for on June 20, will be buried September 28 in his hometown. In November 1943, Riser was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, 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. Riser 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. The 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio between 1946 and 1947, but Riser’s remains were not identified. All of the remains found on Tarawa were sent to the Schofield Barracks Central Identification Laboratory for identification in 1947. By 1949, the remains that had not been identified were interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
On Nov. 21, 2016, DPAA disinterred Tarawa Unknown X-144 from the NMCP for identification.
To identify Riser’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) analysis, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
DPAA is grateful to the Department of Veterans Affairs for their partnership in this mission.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,794 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Riser’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the NMCP, along with the other MIAs from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
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, find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa or call (703) 699-1420/1169.
Riser’s personnel profile can be viewed at