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.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


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(19) comments

Carlos Ponce

In the Galveston News we read:

Justin Mills made 100 in Spelling in Rosenberg School November 13, 1926.

Was "perfect in Spelling" February 5, 1927.

Attended a surprise 12th birthday party for Lillie Mae Infernaise - March 24, 1929.

Went on an extended motor trip covering 6700 miles with his aunt and uncle July 3, 1929.

Made the Honor Roll April 12, 1930 (Galveston Tribune).

Was assistant ring attendant at the "Humbug Circus" sponsored by the Congregation Beth Jacob Synagogue. March 7, 1934

Member of the DeMolay committee sponsoring a "Moonlight Cruise and Dance" leaving Pier 22. August 1, 1934 August 4, 1935 August 21, 1935

Listed as a "Guard" on the Ball High Golden Tornadoes Football team #37. August 22, 1934 September 22, 1934

Installed as DeMolay "Standard Bearer". January 5, 1936

Installed as DeMolay preceptor. August 29, 1936

Was a guest at a YWCA dance party. June 21, 1937

Was in Port Bolivar with Jack French. August 15, 1937

Suffered a broken collarbone and was in a San Diego hospital while in the Service. He was listed as a former "Hurricane". December 9, 1941.

May he rest in peace.


Carlos - Thank You for taking the time to research and share.

Myrna Reingold

Aww, thank you for researching and sharing.

Stephen Murphy

Thanks, Carlos. 👍🏻

Charles Douglas


Bailey Jones

According to the 1936 City directory, Justin Mills resided at 615 Church, in the household of Roger Q Mills, a wharf policeman, and two others, Miss Lydia Mills, and Miss Rita Mills. His occupation is listed as messenger.

I wonder if an effort is made to track down descendants when remains are found?

Charles Douglas


Wayne D Holt

He was just 25 years old when he sacrificed his life to preserve what remains of American liberty and justice today. Contrast his incredible courage and commitment to American principles at that young age to the corruption, self-dealing and insane thirst for power among those who claim the title of "our leaders" today.

It's enough to make you weep.

Bailey Jones

Sort of off topic, but I remember hearing the argument a while back that the tremendous bipartisan energy of the congress in the 50s and 60s was due in large part to the fact that so many congressmen had served in the war. That common bond allowed them to work together across party lines. This is why I like the idea of some sort of national service - preferably not a war - where young people can learn to work together towards common national goals.

According to Mayor Pete's website, Americorps only has a budget for 75,000 members, yet has 500,000 applications. The Peace Corps has 17000 applicants but only 3500 spots. My sister and her husband were in the Peace Corps back in the day, working in the Solomon Islands. They came out of it as some of the finest people I know.

Carlos Ponce

Interesting. Christian missionaries perform the same functions without government funding and there is no limit on the number of applications, just the will do help others.[innocent]

Charles Douglas


Charles Douglas


Jack Reeves

Thank You for your Service Sir and welcome home. May Rest in Peace. Semper Fi.

Elizabeth Stein

Thank you, Mr. Ferguson (and Mr. Ponce) for the detailed account of Lt. Mills and the recovery of his remains, all these years later. He’s earned the honor of being laid to rest, finally, at Arlington National Cemetery. Please let us know if any local veterans or other groups decide to hold a memorial here.

Curtiss Brown

ORR, LYDIA MILLS, age 85, passed away peacefully on February 27, 2005 at Richardson Regional Medical Center following a stroke. She was born on May 30, 1919 in Lockhart, Texas to Roger and Aline Mills. She is survived by her daughters, Connie Hooper of Plano, Janet Cook and husband Grant of Houston; son, Steve Anderson of LaMarque, TX; sister, Rita A. Spottswood of Knoxville, TN; grandchildren, Michael Hooper, Jennifer Bailey, Katie Graham, Lytch Tornow; great-grandchildren, Beth and Aaron Hooper, Bailey and Shelby Graham, Christopher and Jessica Bailey; niece, Jean Ann Moorefield. She was preceded in death by her husband, Ray D. Orr; brother, Justin G. Mills; and grandson, Paul Carey Hooper. Lydia was a 1937 graduate from Ball High School in Galveston, TX. She had a wonderful sense of humor and during her high school years she was voted wittiest. She loved to dance and was a great dancer. She was a member of Galco Country Club and had many life long friends there. She considered her greatest accomplishment her three children. Lydia was a 40 year resident of LaMarque, TX and she was a longtime employee of Union Carbide. She will be dearly missed by her family. A springtime Memorial Service will be held in LaMarque at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Hospice Care Team, 1708 Amburn Rd., Suite C, Texas City, TX 77591. Dignity Memorial Ted Dickey 2128 18th Plano (972) 424-4511

Published on on Mar. 1, 2005.

Bailey Jones


Charles Douglas


Charles Douglas

I believe 1st Lt. Mills was a special individual in life and I'm sure of that by what I have read about him on this forum, and in this Op-ed. I also think he represents very much in death, because he allows us to focus on those like him who did what he did, but have not been found, identified, and returned to their families. I say God blessed them all, for their unselfish acts of duty, and love of country, also their families, for their loss and pain.

Stephen Murphy

If you want to know more about what happened, Google the Battle of Tarawa. It was a controversial battle.

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