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Kansas Marine killed during island battle in WWII identified

Arlington National Cemetery (U.S. Army/Released)

The DNA of a niece and nephew, who never met their uncle, has helped identify the remains of the Kansas Marine who died in WWII.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that 21-year-old U.S. Marines Corps Reserve Pfc Raymond Warren was identified using DNA and circumstantial evidence. Warren had been buried in a cemetery in the Gilbert Islands, where he was killed when U.S. forces tried to take secure one of the islands from the Japanese. The Battle of Tarawa lasted from Nov. 20 to Nov. 23, 1943, and claimed the lives of 1,021 U.S. marines and sailors, more than 3,000 Japanese soldiers and an estimated 1,000 Korean laborers before the U.S. troops seized control, the agency said.

An effort to identify fallen service members led to 532 remains being dug up on the islands a few years after the battle, according to the Accounting Agency. But Warren’s burial site, called Cemetery 27, wasn’t discovered until 2015 by the nonprofit History Flight.

“It really is an incredible effort by a lot of people,” said Warren Cooper, the nephew of the marine. “And I think it is greatly appreciated by all the families.”

The 68-year-old from San Diego said he and his sister were contacted about possibly being related to Warren. Cooper knew little about his uncle, other than he and his mother (Raymond Warren’s sister) grew up on a farm in Silverdale, which is around 8 miles east of Arkansas City.

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“Just kinda a normal life up until WWII started,” Cooper said.

Cooper and his sister, Cynthia Emmerson of Arizona, submitted mouth swabs and found out about 18 months later that their uncle had been identified.

DPAA spokesperson Sean Everette said about 75 service members have been identified through History Flight’s effort.

“This is the whole reason that we do (it),” Everette said. “We made a promise to our service members to never forget them, never leave them behind and to bring them home.”

Cooper didn’t know anyone in his immediate family that’s alive that knew Warren. Cooper said his family and sister’s family and their father plan a “memorial reunion” during their uncle’s burial.

Warren, who was posthumously awarded the silver star, is eligible to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors and a flyover during the burial. Cooper said they applied for the burial to happen in May but haven’t yet heard back.

“We figured that enormity of the sacrifice and the great honor it is to be buried at Arlington tipped that in the (direction) of him being buried there,” Cooper said.

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© 2020 The Wichita Eagle