Marine Laid to Rest in Los Angeles Almost 80 Years After WWII Battle

A decades-long search reaches its conclusion

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
MPSharwood - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Over the course of 3 days in 1943, American and Japanese forces clashed in the Battle of Tarawa. A book on the subject was titled Tarawa, the Toughest Battle in Marine Corps History; this was a battle in which both sides fought tenaciously. In the end, the American forces emerged victorious, but not without a significant cost — over 1,000 dead and 2,300 wounded.

Among the fallen was Private Jacob Cruz, a Marine from Los Angeles, who had enlisted when he was just 17. For years, his body was buried in a temporary grave; when it came time to transport it back to his loved ones, the government was unable to find it. Pvt. Cruz’s name can be found on the Courts of the Missing at Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific — but there was little to bring closure for the family he left behind.

After nearly 80 years, however, Pvt. Cruz’s body was found and transported back to California. At the Los Angeles Times, Gustavo Arellano wrote a moving account of how one family mourned their loss — including memorial gestures that spanned generations — and the lengthy process by which Cruz’s body was identified and transported home.

“He turned from son to brother to legend to myth with each passing generation,” writes Arellano.

The search for Pvt. Cruz’s body involved scientists making use of DNA samples provided by his family members and a 10-year search for temporary graves in the Republic of Kiribati. And in the end, he was laid to rest in Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood in late March — a very belated homecoming.

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