More than 75 years after his death, the body of a 17-year-old Marine has been returned to his home in New Miami, Ohio.
Marine Corps Pfc. William Brandenburg was buried with full military honors last weekend next to his parents in Butler County in southwest Ohio. Dozens of vehicles took part in the young Marine's funeral procession while residents of the small town stood along the route carrying American flags. Brandenburg's family, Veterans, and Boy Scouts attended the service.
"I am grateful and glad that they're doing something like this to commemorate this person," Deidra Thieken, one of the funeral procession attendees, told Butler County's Journal-News.
During the service, a Marine presented a flag to Patricia Moore, the daughter of Brandenburg's deceased sister, Mae Black.
Black played a crucial role in identifying her brother's body when she provided a DNA sample to the Department of Defense in 2011. Brandenburg was killed in 1943 on the island of Betio during the Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific theater, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The battle, fought at the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands, was the first American offensive in the central Pacific. More than 1,000 Marines were killed, along with nearly 700 sailors. Almost 5,000 Japanese and Korean troops and laborers died in the four-day battle. Brandenburg's body was buried with those of other unidentified U.S. service members at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The DPAA was founded in 2015 after the Pentagon merged the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel office. It is tasked with providing "the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation."
Historically, the Pentagon focused on returning the bodies of those lost in conflicts between Vietnam and the first Gulf War. In 2010, it added World War II to the list. An estimated 82,000 service members from World War II to the Gulf War reportedly remain unaccounted for.
The DPAA engages in an in-depth process when identifying missing personnel, starting with historians and researchers. Should they find something, a field investigation team is sent to the service member's burial place to learn more. Pending a successful investigation, archaeologists and anthropologists are sent to excavate the site for remains, which are sent back to the United States. Scientists then examine DNA samples from family members to see if there is a match.
The agency has made good progress in identifying missing World War II Veterans. In February, its researchers identified the remains of Navy Fireman 1st Class Bill James Johnson, the 200th crewman to be identified from the 388 sets of remains from the USS Oklahoma, a Nevada-class battleship that was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.