The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Wesley L. Kroenung, Jr., 25, of South Pasadena, California, killed during World War II, was accounted for April 16, 2019.
(This identification was initially published on May 8, 2019.)
In November 1943, Kroenung was a photographer with Headquarters Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, Fifth Amphibious Corps, temporarily assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands, in an attempt to secure the island. Over several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, while the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Kroenung died on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943. He was reportedly buried in the 2nd Marine Division Cemetery #4.
Despite the heavy casualties suffered by U.S. forces, military success in the battle of Tarawa was a huge victory for the U.S. military because the Gilbert Islands provided the U.S. Pacific Fleet a platform from which to launch assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands to advance their Central Pacific Campaign against Japan.
In the immediate aftermath of the fighting on Tarawa, U.S. service members who died in the battle were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries on the island. The 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio between 1946 and 1947, but Kroenung’s remains were not identified. All of the remains found on Tarawa were sent to the Schofield Barracks Central Identification Laboratory for identification in 1947. By 1949, the remains that had not been identified were interred as unknowns in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, including one set, designated as Tarawa Unknown X-103.
On November 7, 2016, 2017, DPAA disinterred Tarawa Unknown X-103 from the NMCP for identification. Shortly after, DPAA disinterred one set of remains, designated Tarawa Unknown X-104B from Cemetery #33. The remains were consolidated and sent to the laboratory for analysis.
To identify Kroenung’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
DPAA is grateful to the Department of Veterans Affairs and for their partnership in this mission.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,700 service members still unaccounted for from WWII, of which approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable. Kroenung’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the NMCP, along with the others missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.