The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that Navy Reserve Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd Class William H. Blancheri, 19, of Los Angeles, killed during World War II, was accounted for Aug. 14, 2018.
In November 1943, Blancheri was a member of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 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. Blancheri died on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943, during the first waves of the assault.
The battle of Tarawa was a significant 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. Blancheri was reportedly buried in Cemetery #26. The 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio between 1946 and 1947, but Blancheri’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) in Honolulu.
On Dec. 5, 2016, DPAA disinterred Tarawa Unknown X-016 from the NMCP, and sent the remains to the laboratory.
To identify Blancheri’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) DNA analysis, dental, 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 72,766 (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Blancheri’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others killed or lost in WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
For family contact information, contact the Navy Casualty office at (800) 443-9298.
Blancheri will be buried June 3, 2019, in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.
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.
Blancheri’s personnel profile can be viewed at https://dpaa.secure.force.com/dpaaProfile?id=a0Jt0000000XfFJEA0