Hoosier sailor to rest in peace decades after death during World War II

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Thomas Murphy (Department of Defense photo)

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An Indiana sailor will be buried with full military honors decades after his death during World War II.

Navy Reserve Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class Thomas J. Murphy, 22, of Greencastle, Indiana, was killed in November 1943, but his remains went undiscovered until 2017. He will be buried in Hamilton, Ohio, on May 28, 2018.

Murphy was assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Fleet Marine Force, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands.

After several days of intense fighting, approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and more than 2,000 wounded while the Japanese force was virtually annihilated. Murphy was killed on Nov. 20, 1943—the first day of fighting to secure the island.

Despite the heavy losses, U.S. forces prevailed in the battle, which was a key strategic victory because the Gilbert Islands provided the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet a launching point for assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands to advance the Central Pacific Campaign against Japan.

After the battle, U.S. service members were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries. In 1946 and 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio Island. Murphy’s remains were not among those recovered; on Feb. 7, 1949, a military review board declared his remains non-recoverable.

In June 2015, a nongovernmental organization called History Flight, Inc., notified the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) that the group had found a burial site on Betio Island and recovered remains of some 35 Marines who fought in the November 1943 battle.

In May 2017, DPAA and History Flight used advanced techniques to locate more remains, which were taken to a lab for analysis. Later in 2017, Murphy was accounted for after scientists used dental records and anthropological analysis to identify his remains.

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