Grissom Marines help return World War II Marine home after 76 years

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Ben Mota
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs

From the shores of the Gilbert Islands to home in Marion, Indiana, Marine Private Fred Freet’s journey took 76 years. The the final stretch was aided by Marines from Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana.

A Marine Corps honor guard from Grissom participated in the dignified transfer of Marine Corps Pvt. Fred Freet, 18, of Marion, Indiana, at the Indianapolis International Airport April 16.

Freet was killed in action during World War II, and initially declared by the military as unrecoverable killed in action until Aug. 6, 2018 when the U.S. Navy positively identified his remains.

“From day one we teach Marines to never leave another Marine behind, so to be part of the process of returning him to his family after all these years is a huge honor,” said Capt. Pierce Virag, Detachment One, Communication Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 45, 4th Marine Logistics Group inspector instructor. “We hope that this will help bring closure to his family.

In November 1943, Freet was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, 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, approximately 1,000 Sailors and Marines were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, but the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Freet died on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943, during the first waves of the assault.

In the immediate aftermath of the fighting, U.S. service members who died in the battle were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries on the island, but Freet’s remains were not identified.

In 2015, The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency received a unilateral turnover from History Flight, Inc., a nongovernmental organization, of remains recovered on Betio Island. To identify Freet’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.

Attending the dignified transfer were several relatives of Freet, who came to show their support to their long lost relative who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

“Before today he was just a picture on a mantle to us,” said Bill Freet, a nephew who was born several years after his uncle joined the Marines. “This feels like a huge victory for our family because for so many years no one knew what happened to him.”

“The military and community has been extremely supportive throughout the process and we are grateful,” he said. 

 “Grissom is so proud to play a part in this hero’s return,” said Col. Larry Shaw, 434th Air Refueling Wing commander. “The culture of military heritage and the bond that we have for those that served before us was on full display with our Marines taking care of one of their own.”

Freet will be buried at the Marion National Cemetery in Marion Indiana on April 18, a resting place for over 8,000 veterans.

Freet’s personnel profile can be viewed at

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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