The remains of a U.S. Marine killed on a Pacific island battlefield in 1943 have been identified as a Galveston man, the U.S. military announced Wednesday.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said it had positively identified the remains of Marine Corps Reserve 1st Lt. Justin G. Mills.
Mills was 25 years old when he died during a battle on Betio Island on Nov. 20, 1943. He was a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, according to the agency.
He was part of the American force that landed on the island as part of Operation Galvanic, a major offensive in the central Pacific Ocean. Betio Island is part of the Gilbert Islands, a small island chain about halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
More than 1,000 Marines were killed and 2,000 more were wounded taking the island from Japanese forces. More than 4,600 Japanese soldiers were killed over the three-day battle.
Mills was killed on the first day of the battle, according to the accounting agency. His remains were buried on Betio Island and remained there for decades
In 1946, the military attempted to repatriate U.S. remains buried on the island. Because of difficulty finding battlefield cemeteries, almost half of the known casualties were never found, according to the accounting agency.
Mills remains were among the missing and, in 1949, his body was declared non-recoverable.
Grave sites in the Pacific theater were sometimes lost because of incomplete record keeping and alterations to cemeteries — such as moving grave markers without moving bodies — that were made after the battle was over, according to the accounting agency.
Marines who were killed during the battle on Betio Island were either buried where they fell or in mass graves that could contain up to 100 people, according to the agency.
History Flight, a nonprofit organization, found the remains of a cemetery on Betio Island in 2014. The group unearthed multiple sets of soldiers’ remains and turned them over to the military for identification
The accounting agency used anthropological and DNA analysis to identify Mills, the agency said. He was positively identified on Sept. 27.
More than 400,000 Americans were killed during World War II. Of those, more than 70,000 are still unaccounted for, according to the accounting agency. More than half of those, about 43,000, were lost at sea, according the government.
Mills is listed as a missing soldier at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. A rosette mark be placed next to his name in order to recognize that he has been identified and returned home, the accounting agency said.
Mills will be buried April 29 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.