BETIO ISLAND, TARAWA ATOLL, KIRIBATI -- Marines and Sailors with Task Force Koa Moana 17 volunteered at a World War II grave site excavation, June 13, 2017, on Betio Island.
Service members conducted the tough work needed to excavate the remains, according to 1st Lt. William Holden, executive officer of Task Force KM 17.
“The Marines and Sailors were unable to help with the fragile parts,” said Holden. “But they were able to do what they do best; provide muscle. We did a lot of heavy lifting that made it easier for the professionals to do the finer aspects of their job much quicker.”
The service members moved soil away from the burial sites, allowing archaeologists to quickly plateau the remains or dig around them to raise the remains, which makes exhuming them much easier.
The dirt that was taken was placed into pails to be thoroughly sifted by Kiribati residents for small bones, metal and other artifacts. After the dirt had been sifted, service members transferred it in a wheelbarrow to a dumping location.
“It was a lot of hard work and it was something I will never forget,” said Cpl. William Tuttle, a packaging specialist with Task Force KM 17. “Not everyone gets the chance to help with something this historic. It’s a once in a life time opportunity.”
Recovered remains are transported to a laboratory to be cleaned and identified before being shipped home to their families, some of whom have been waiting more than 70 years.
“It’s an extremely humbling experience," said Tuttle. "It’s hard to imagine families’ reactions when they finally get to bury their family member that was lost long ago. We are very thankful for the opportunity to help get these service members back home where they belong.”