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After 75 Years, WWII Military Hero Comes Home

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By Tom Konecny

It was a 75-year wait, but a World War II marine veteran finally came home. U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Millard Odom, killed at age 26 in the Battle of Tarawa on the first day of fighting – November 20, 1943 – had his remains identified and was laid to rest on November 20 in Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego, California.

Courtesy Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Washington, D.C.

Odom, a member of a member of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, was originally buried on Betio with around 1,000 Marines and sailors. Betio is part of the Gilbert Islands, a chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands halfway between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. The battle there lasted for 72 hours and wounded more than 2,000.

These types of recoveries do happen, but they can take years to confirm. Experts estimate that more than 72,000 U.S. service members from World War II remain unaccounted for, among more than 400,000 who died. From those associated with the Battle of Tarawa and nearby Betio Island, the number of those unaccounted for is at 491. Following the war, remains were recovered and unidentified bodies were interred in Hawaii.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency officially identified Odom’s remains on August 20, 2018 after sending them to a lab in 2017 for comprehensive testing. His initial case began in 2011. Identification took place through DNA, dental and anthropological analysis, as well as “circumstantial and material evidence,” according to the Defense Department. Scientists from the Defense Department and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner handled Odom’s identification.

The U.S. Marine Corps reported that Odom was thought to be killed by a gunshot to the neck, but was later determined that his death occurred by a ballistic injury, possibly by explosives.

Odom was born in 1917 in Arkansas and has only one living sister, 88, still alive. After his remains arrived at San Diego International Airport, he was escorted to the cemetery by U.S. Marines and the Patriot Guard Riders, who assist with military funeral processions.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency intends to continue locating soldiers “case by case, individual by individual, and family by family.” It promises to stay the course “until the job is done.”

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