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Tarawa (Gilbert Islands, Kiribati) - November 20 to November 23, 1943
Of the 3,636 Japanese in the garrison, only one officer and sixteen enlisted men surrendered. Of the 1,200 Korean laborers brought to Tarawa to construct the defenses, only 129 survived. All told, 4,690 of the island's defenders were killed. The 2nd Marine Division suffered 894 killed in action, 48 officers and 846 enlisted men, while an additional 84 of the wounded survivors later succumbed to what proved to be fatal wounds. Of these, 8 were officers and 76 were enlisted men. A further 2,188 men were wounded in the battle, 102 officers and 2,086 men. Of the roughly 12,000 2nd Marine Division marines on Tarawa, 3,166 officers and men became casualties. Nearly all of these casualties were suffered in the 76 hours between the landing at 0910 20 November and the island being declared secure at 1330 23 November. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), investigated the cases of American servicemen who remain unaccounted for from the Battle of Tarawa, including 103 who are buried as "Unknown" in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. It is a tiny island; its main feature (and the reason for its capture) was a small airstrip that ran down its middle, almost from one beach to the other. Marines commented that, in most places on the island, a pitcher with a good arm could throw a baseball from one side to the other. Rather than one big cemetery, the Americans buried their dead in several smaller cemeteries where space and convenience permitted. They were marked as well as possible, understood to be temporary and left to the care of the garrison. When graves registration teams arrived after the war, they found an enormous mess and very few remains. The small cemeteries had been moved during the war to accommodate the expanding base and while the main cemetery had been spruced up (in advance of a visit from a LIFE magazine photographer) headstones often did not line up with graves or, indeed, follow the lines of burial at all. Many of the bodies had no identification, and identifying features were long gone. By the time the graves registration teams called it quits, they had repatriated a few score remains, returned a few dozen as unknown and left hundreds behind as simply unrecoverable.
BIRDSONG, Jessie L., Cpl., USMC. Parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Birdsong, Rt. 1, Hooks, Tex + BIRDSONG, Jessie Lavine, 281621, CoD, 1stBn, 8thMar, 2ndMarDiv, FMF, Gilbert Islands, November 21, 1943, killed in action