Dr. Stephen Perkins, an associate professor of anthropology with the Oklahoma State University Department of Sociology, recently traveled about 2,500 miles west of Hawaii to assist in the return of the battlefield remains of 24 U.S. personnel who were killed on the Tarawa Atoll in the Central Pacific Ocean during World War II. The recovery and transfer to the U.S. of the remains was coordinated by History Flight, Inc., and represented the second-largest recovery of battlefield remains since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Tarawa is one of 33 coral atolls that make up the island nation of Kiribati, which was a Japanese stronghold until it was attacked during World War II by U.S. Marines who took the island in a 76-hour battle that left more than 1,100 of their comrades dead. While 300 or so bodies were located and brought home at the end of the war, it wasn’t until History Flight, Inc., a private, nonprofit organization, returned to the island 10 years ago to look for the other World War II soldiers missing in action that many more were found.
History Flight’s founder and director, Mark Noah, invited Perkins to return to the island for more volunteer work in helping to identify the remains and join other specialists in an official repatriation ceremony.
“The investment of a decade of work and $6.5 million has resulted in the recovery of extremely significant, but not yet to be disclosed, number of missing American service personnel,” said Noah. “Our transdisciplinary team – including many volunteers – such as forensic anthropologists, geophysicists, historians, surveyors, anthropologists, forensic odontologists, unexploded ordnance specialists, medics, and even a cadaver-dog handler, has excelled in difficult conditions to produce spectacular results.”
On July 25, Perkins attended the…