The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Alfred Edwards, 33 of Stilwell, Oklahoma, killed during World War II, was accounted for on Aug. 27, 2019.
In November 1943, Edwards was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, 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. Edwards was killed on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943. His remains were reportedly buried in the East Division Cemetery, later renamed Cemetery 33 on Betio Island.
In 1946, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company (604th GRC) centralized all of the American remains found on Tarawa to Lone Palm Cemetery for later repatriation; however, almost half of the known casualties were never found. No recovered remains could be associated with Edwards, and in October 1949, a Board of Review declared him “non-recoverable.” The remains that could not be identified, were subsequently buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, including two sets, designated Tarawa Unknown X-203 and X-209.
On March 27, 2017, DPAA disinterred X-203 from the Punchbowl, and on April 3, 2017, DPAA disinterred X-209. The remains were sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis, where anthropologists determined X-203 and X-209 were associated with each other.
To identify Edwards’ remains, scientists from DPAA used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
DPAA is grateful to the Department of Veterans Affairs for their partnership in this recovery.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,638 service members still unaccounted for from World War II, of which approximately 30,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable. Edwards’ name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others killed or lost in WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.