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. Robert L. Zehetner, 19, of Brooksville, Florida, accounted for on July 3, 2018, will be buried November 30 in Bushnell, Florida. In November 1943, Zehetner was assigned to Company F, 2nd 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. Zehetner 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 Zehetner’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 Feb. 27, 2017, DPAA disinterred Tarawa Unknown X-79 from the NMCP and sent the remains to the laboratory for analysis.
To identify Zehetner’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) analysis, dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
DPAA is appreciative 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 72,782 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Zehetner’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing 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.
Zehetner’s personnel profile can be viewed at