The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that Marine Corps Pfc. Edward A. Nalazek, 27, of Chicago, killed during World War II, was accounted for on Aug. 27, 2019.
In November 1943, Nalazek was a member of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 18th 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. Nalazek was killed on the second day of the battle, Nov. 21, 1943. His remains were reportedly buried in the Central Division Cemetery 8th Marines #2 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 Nalazek, and in October 1949, a Board of Review declared him “non-recoverable.”
In June 1967, construction at the site of the Marine/Customs office block at the Betio Wharf uncovered multiple sets of remains, as well as American equipment. The remains were sent to the U.S. Army Mortuary at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, and accessioned as Unknown XJ-1323. A number of remains were identified as Japanese. However, XJ-1323A-G were determined to be American. The remains could not be identified, and were subsequently buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
In 2015, History Flight, Inc., a nonprofit organization, excavated a site near the wharf on Betio Island, later identified as Cemetery 27. Remains recovered were accessioned to the DPAA laboratory.
On Nov. 21, 2016, DPAA disinterred XJ-1323 from the Punchbowl, and associated portions of XJ-1323B with portions recovered by History Flight in 2015.
To identify Nalazek’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological 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. Additionally, DPAA is appreciative to History Flight, Inc., for their assistance.
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 with approximately 30,000 assessed as possibly recoverable. Nalazek’s 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.