'Makin Raiders' revisited
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
The daring and bravery of a Marine raid on Japanese-held Makin Atoll in 1942 was the stuff of legend immortalized in war movies such as "Gung Ho!" and highlighted again with the discovery of the remains of 19 "Makin Raiders" in 1999.
The U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory, Hawai'i, which found the remains of 19 Marines on Makin Atoll, has had a team on Kwajalein Island since early January.
This time, anthropologists are looking for the remains of nine Makin Raiders who were captured by the Japanese and beheaded on Kwajalein, along with the crews of three downed B-24 bombers who are believed to have met the same fate.
Originally expected to remain until mid-February, the 10-person team has been bolstered with five more searchers and is staying until the end of March after getting some encouraging results.
"We're continuing to excavate the site," said laboratory spokeswoman Ginger Cou-den. "We haven't located the mass burial, but we have located some possible human remains."
"National Geographic" has been there, too, shooting a one-hour documentary expected to air late this year or early next, Couden said.
Among those who flew to Kwajalein, 2,100 miles southwest of Honolulu, were Ben Carson of Oregon, one of 222 Marine Raiders who fought on Makin, and Lou Zamperini of California.
A 5,000-meter runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics who roomed with Jesse Owens, Zamperini was held as a prisoner of war on Kwajalein in 1943, and saw the names of the nine missing Raiders on his cell wall, Couden said.
Zamperini's own amazing story which Hollywood has plans to produce with Nicolas Cage in the lead role began shortly after his B-24 Liberator lumbered down the runway at Kualoa Field in May of 1943 on a search mission.
The B-24 Liberator was sent from O'ahu to look for another bomber, a B-25, that had gone down in the Pacific near Palmyra Island.
It met the same fate. With first one and then the second port engine conking out, the heavy bomber crashed at sea.
For 47 days, Zamperini and a crewmate drifted in a life raft, avoiding strafing by a Japanese "Betty" bomber, fending off sharks and surviving on six bars of chocolate, fish and rainwater.
Picked up by a fishing boat and held as a POW on Kwajalein Island and in Japan, Zamperini endured beatings and confinement in 8-foot holes dug in the coral.
But compared to the nine Makin Raiders and other B-24 crew members who never made it off Kwajalein, Zamperini was one of the lucky ones.
The Makin raid was planned as a diversionary maneuver to distract Japanese resupply efforts at Guadalcanal.
Col. Evans Carlson, who was in China for several years and adopted as his unit's motto the phrase, "Gung Ho," meaning, "work together," trained his Raiders off Barbers Point. They arrived under cover of darkness at Makin in two submarines, the Argonaut and Nautilus.
At least nineteen Marines were killed in the Aug. 17, 1942 raid, which succeeded in briefly taking the island and boosting morale on the home front, but in the confusion of withdrawal, nine Raiders were left behind.
Not until the war's end would the Marine Corps learn of the mistake.
According to historian Edward C. Whitman, the Raiders at first were treated humanely, but after a change of heart by the Japanese commander of the Marshall island, Vice Adm. Kose Abe, the men were executed on Oct. 16, 1942.
At a ceremony Friday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, a 1,600-pound stone monument with a bronze plaque was dedicated to Marine Raiders of World War II.
The plaque memorializes the 8,054 Marines of the 1st Raider Regiment, 902 of whom died in battle. Another 2,482 Marines were wounded. A total of 158 Raiders are buried at Punchbowl.
"Words cannot describe how much we appreciate (the laboratory's ) efforts," said Mel Heckt, president of the U.S. Marine Raider Association.
In August, 19 members of Carlson's Raiders received a full-honors ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery after CILHI identified the remains from Makin Atoll, now called Butaritari.
The search on Kwajalein, now an Army base and home to the Kwajalein Missile Range, has focused on the southwestern side of the island.
The search area originally was about the size of a football field, but has now been doubled, making it necessary to dig up a road in the process.
Couden said boring through coral "has been a little bit more difficult than anticipated," and the team burned out two jackhammers in two to three weeks time. But, she added, "based on what we're finding, CILHI is more convinced than ever we're in the right area."
Bone fragments turned up will have to be examined in the lab to determine if they are human or animal, American or Marshallese.
Carson this past weekend flew to Washington, D.C., with dirt taken from the dig site. He plans to place the dirt on Makin Raider graves at Arlington.
Reach William Cole at email@example.com or 525-5459.