- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2000

Marine's quest finally rewarded

Perhaps only God knows what really happened one grim summer afternoon in the Pacific during World War II, but one lesson can be learned: Buddies never forget their own, even after 58 years.
Thursday, Col. David Pagano of the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii formally announced that the bodies of 19 of 30 long-lost Marines had been found in December in a mass grave on an island far from home.
Butaritari Island in Kiribati, to be exact.
But in mid-August 1942, it was called Makin Atoll, the site of a fierce battle between American Marines and a Japanese garrison that left behind a complex mystery and one very determined leatherneck.
An 18-year-old infantryman named Pvt. Ben Carson was a member of the 2nd Raider Battalion "Carlson's Raiders" named for their commander, Col. Evans F. Carlson, who was such a celebrated hero after leading an endless patrol behind enemy lines on Guadalcanal that not one, but two, popular songs were written about him.
"Each knows what he's fighting for, that's what he had to know, or he wouldn't be with Carlson on the road to Tokyo," went one tune sung by none other than Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie in 1942.
The Raiders arrived off Makin in a pair of submarines and went right into action.
On Aug. 17, they attacked the Japanese-occupied island, killing 83 Japanese and destroying two seaplanes. The official death count had Raiders losing 18 of their own in the raid, including Clyde Thomason, a sergeant who became the first enlisted Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the war.
Maj. James Roosevelt FDR's son was also a Raider; he was unhurt in the battle.
In rain, high seas and some confusion, the battalion beat it back to the submarines, but not before Col. Carlson paid some local folks $50 to bury the slain Americans. By the time the battalion reached Hawaii, a sad discovery was made: In addition to the 18 Marines known to have been killed, 12 others were missing.
The fate of the missing Marines remained a mystery, though reports surfaced after the war that nine of the 12 had been abandoned alive. They later surrendered and were beheaded by the Japanese on Kwajalein, an atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Ben Carson, meanwhile, never forgot his comrades.
Along with other former Raiders, he pestered military and governmental officials here and in the Pacific for decades, demanding they bring home the American dead and find the missing. He went so far as to revisit Butaritari.
The Army at last began a search in August 1998. Calls went out to retired Raiders and family members for any information. A kind of consortium emerged on the Internet as folks traded a few facts.
The Raiders, incidentally, have their own Web site at www.geocities.com/pentagon/quarters/3805.
With the help of one old man who had been part of the local detail that had buried the Marines so long ago, the Army excavation team found the mass grave in December.
As the remains were removed to a waiting C-130 aircraft under color guard, the old man stood in respect and sang the Marine Corps hymn in tribute.
It will take about a year to formally identify the bodies at an Army facility in Hawaii.
And Mr. Carson now 76 and living in Hillsborough, Ore. was just plain elated.
"I'm very, very happy. Nothing could be better than this," he said in December upon hearing that his buddies had finally been found.
But his mission is not quite over. Pvt. Carson wants the Army to find all those Marines missing or killed. The Army does, too, though it is a challenge.
Kwajalein is an Army ballistic missile testing base, and the last man said to have witnessed the beheading of the Marines is now dead. The Japanese commander involved in the incident was executed for war crimes.
"We just know of the story, and we know of the trace of what presumably happened. We have yet to get a witness to tell us where they were buried or if they were buried," Col. Pagano said Thursday.
He hopes that someone, somewhere will surface.
In the meantime, he calls the fallen Raiders true heroes who need to come home and be properly tended to. And for their families, the pain is as real now as it was in the summer of '42.
"There is a commitment in our organization to today's service members that if, God forbid, they should fall, their country will bring them home," Col. Pagano said.

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