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News Release

Press Release | Oct. 11, 2016

Marine Missing From World War II Accounted For (Smith, James)

The 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 S. Smith, 19, of Liberty, Mississippi, will be buried Oct. 17 in Liberty, Mississippi. In November 1943, Smith was assigned to Company C, 2nd Amphibious Tractor Battalion, 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. Smith died sometime during 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.

Smith’s company incurred 20 casualties over the course of the battle with 18 of them occurring on the first day. His casualty card initially listed him as missing in action and did not list burial information. Based on the prolonged lack of information regarding his whereabouts, the Navy made a presumptive finding of death as of Nov. 21, 1944.

In June 2011, a nongovernmental organization, History Flight, Inc., notified DPAA that they discovered a burial site on Betio Island. In 2012, a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (now DPAA) team excavated the site and recovered three individual sets of remains.

To identify Smith’s remains, scientists from DPAA used circumstantial evidence and laboratory analysis, to include dental comparisons, and anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, which matched Smith’s records.

DPAA is appreciative to History Flight, Inc. and their partnership for this recovery mission.

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, find us on social media at or call (703) 699-1420.