Lakota man’s long overdue homecoming

Journal Staff
Marine Field Music 1st Class Warren G. Nelson.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced last Friday, June 2 that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, unaccounted for since World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Marine Field Music 1st Class Warren G. Nelson, 20, of Lakota, North Dakota, will be buried June 10 in his hometown.

A 1941 graduate of Lakota High School, Nelson had been a trumpet player in the Lakota High School Band. He had aspirations to attend college, but because World War II was well underway, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in December 1942 becoming a Field Musician.

In November 1943, Nelson was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands, in an attempt to secure the island.

Primary responsibility for the assault, code named Operation Galvanic, fell to the Second Marine Division.

The assault force was to land in three different areas on the north side of the island, designated Beaches Red 1, 2 and 3.

Warren’s Echo Company, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines was to invade at Beach Red 3 on the north of Betio Island.

Over several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, but the Japanese were virtually annihilated.

Nelson was killed sometime during the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943. He was 20 years old.

Despite the heavy casualties suffered by U.S. forces, military success in the battle of Tarawa was a huge victory for the U.S. military because the Gilbert Islands provided the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet a platform from which to launch assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands to advance their Central Pacific Campaign against Japan.

In the immediate aftermath of the fighting on Tarawa, U.S. service members who died in the battle were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries on the island. In 1946 and 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio Island, but Nelson’s remains were not recovered. On Feb. 28, 1949, a military review board declared Nelson’s remains non-recoverable.

In June 2015, a nongovernmental organization, History Flight, Inc., notified DPAA that they discovered a burial site on Betio Island and recovered the remains of what they believed were 35 U.S. Marines who fought during the battle in November 1943. The remains were turned over to DPAA in June 2016.

To identify Nelson’s remains, scientists from DPAA used circumstantial evidence and laboratory analysis, to include dental comparisons, and anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, which matched Nelson’s records.

DPAA is appreciative to History Flight, Inc. and their partnership for this recovery mission.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently, there are 73,057 service members still unaccounted for from World War II.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at, find us on social media at or call (703) 699-1420.