More than 70 years ago, they died in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Now, they’ve returned home.
The military and a private organization called History Flight have brought to the U.S. the remains of 36 Marines killed in the Battle of Tarawa in 1943, the Associated Press reports.
The remains were unloaded on Sunday, and a ceremony to mark their return was held that day at Pearl Harbor.
A federal agency is working to identify the remains. The AP reports that the remains of 1st Lt. Alexander J. Bonnyman, a Marine awarded the Medal of Honor, are said to be among the 36, according to preliminary work conducted by History Flight.
The Florida-based organization retrieved the remains from Tarawa, where more than 990 Marines and 30 sailors died during a three-day battle after their boats got stuck on a reef, according to the AP.
Thousands of Japanese troops died during the battle, and more than 1,000 Korean slave laborers on the island lost their lives as well.
The AP reports that about 520 U.S. servicemen remain unaccounted for.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, a Marine Corps commandant, told the AP that he is pleased by the discovery and noted that Tarawa is the site of one of the service’s most significant battles.
“The lessons learned at Tarawa paved the way for our success in the Pacific campaign and eventual end to the war,” he said.