In 1943, the Battle of Tarawa took place at Tarawa Atoll in the
Gilbert Islands. This was a battle in the Pacific Theater of World
War II, and was fought from 20 November to 23 November.
several days of intense fighting, approximately 1,000 Marines and
sailors were killed in action. A small number of these casualties
were buried in Cemetery 27, a military cemetery on Tarawa Atoll.
From June 2015 to February 2016, History Flight, a non-profit
organization located the remains of 39 individuals who gave their
life in the Battle of Tarawa, and were buried there.
those was Private First Class James Ottis Whitehurst, who was
attached to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
Whitehurst joined the Marine Corps on 20 May, 1941 and was killed in
action on the first day of the Battle of Tarawa, 20 November, 1943.
April 12, 2017 - The "In Loving Memory" image of fallen Marine Pfc. James O. Whitehurst
reflects the end of long wait of the his remains return from
the World War II Tarawa battlefield. Pfc. Whitehurst was attached to 2nd Battalion,
8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. Whitehurst joined the
Marine Corps on May 20, 1941 and was killed in action on the first
day of the Battle of Tarawa on November 20, 1943. Over several days
of intense fighting, approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors were
killed in action. A small number of these casualties were buried in
Cemetery 27, a military cemetery on Tarawa Atoll. From June 2015 to
February 2016, History Flight, a non-profit organization located the
remains of 39 individuals who gave their life in the Battle of
Tarawa, and were buried there, including Whitehurst. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Krista James)
After 74 years of absence, Whitehurst’s remains were finally
repatriated on 11 April, 2017, when he landed at Tallahassee
International Airport in Tallahassee, Florida. There he received
plane-side honors from Marines with Marine Corps Logistics Base
Albany funeral detail.
On 12 April, 2017, people from the
Cowarts community lined the streets for the funeral procession with
American flags and signs that said “welcome home.” Whitehurst was
laid to rest near family at Cowarts Baptist Church Cemetery.
Military Honors were rendered in front of the Marines with Marine
Corps Logistics Base Albany funeral detail, Marines with his old
unit, 2nd Bn., 8th Marines, and hundreds of people from the
First Lt. Peter Severson, an infantry officer with
2nd Bn., 8th Marines, said that being able to attend the ceremony
meant a great deal to him.
“It’s good to share in that legacy
and remember those that came before you, and obviously use that as
motivation and inspiration to go forward and do the best you can do
in your daily life and lead those Marines underneath you,” said
Larry Palmer, the oldest living nephew of
Whitehurst, said that this experience has been a humbling experience
to see his uncle returned home, and to see the Marines who gathered
for this moment.
April 12, 2017 - Marines attached to Marine Corps Logistics Base
Albany funeral detail render a salute as they laid to rest Marine
Pfc. James O. Whitehurst at Cowarts Baptist Church Cemetery in
Cowarts, Alabama. Whitehurst was killed in action while fighting the
Japanese at the battle of Tarawa during World War II on November 20,
1943. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Nathan Hanks, MCLB Albany)
“They did an awesome job; the Marines from Albany and
also from [his] company, they came here from North Carolina,
which is awesome,” Palmer says. “They were so cordial and so
friendly, and did a wonderful job. They are just really
Severson said that the ceremony was
beautiful and that it was definitely a good showing and
ceremony to remember a Marine who gave his life for our
He also said that the Marines from 2nd Bn.,
8th Marines are very appreciative that they were able to
come to and partake in the ceremony, and to be a part of him
being brought home and the history that comes with that for
Palmer said that through this experience,
he learned a lot about what the government does for their
“I wasn’t aware of what the Marines
and military did for these people that have been unaccounted
for, but they do a tremendous job,” Palmer says. “They
worked real hard and [History Flight], the people that
recovered [James’] remains, that is phenomenal. They are to
74 years is a long time to question
what happened to a family member or loved one. Finally,
after all of this time, James Ottis Whitehurst’s remaining
family and community can gain some closure and rest easy
knowing their Marine has finally been returned home.
By U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Krista James
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