The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, recently accounted-for from World War II, are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Marine Cpl. Walter G. Critchley, 24, of Norwich, New York, will be buried October 18 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. In November 1943, Critchley was assigned to Company F, 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. 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. Critchley died on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943.
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 Critchley’s remains were not recovered. On Feb. 10, 1949, a military review board declared Critchley’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 July 2015.
To identify Critchley’s remains, scientists from DPAA used circumstantial evidence and laboratory analysis, to include dental comparisons and anthropological analysis, which matched Critchley’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 72,990 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Critchley’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the NCMP, an American Battle Monuments Commission Cemetery, along with the others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.