WASHINGTON — The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced on Friday, Oct. 25 that Marine Corps Reserve Pvt. Channing R. Whitaker, 18, of Granger, Iowa, killed during World War II, was accounted for on May 29, 2019.


In November 1943, Whitaker was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 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 at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, while the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Whitaker died on the third day of the battle, Nov. 22, 1943. He was reported to have been buried in the East Division Cemetery, which was eventually renamed Cemetery #33.


In 1946, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company centralized all of the American remains found on Tarawa at Lone Palm Cemetery for later repatriation; however, almost half of the known casualties were never found. No recovered remains could be associated with Whitaker, and in October 1949, a Board of Review declared him “non-recoverable.”


In 2009, History Flight, Inc., a nonprofit organization, notified DPAA that they discovered a burial site on Betio Island and recovered the remains of what they believed to be missing American service members who had been buried in Cemetery #33. In March 2019, following continued excavations, a previously undiscovered burial trench was uncovered. The remains were accessioned into the DPAA laboratory.


To identify Whitaker’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.


DPAA is grateful to the Republic of Kiribati and History Flight, Inc., for their partnership in this mission.


Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,648 service members still unaccounted for from World War II with approximately 30,000 assessed as possibly recoverable. Whitaker’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others killed or lost in WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.


For family information, contact the Marine Corps Service Casualty office at (800) 847-1597.


Whitaker will be buried Nov. 22, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.


For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website.


Whitaker’s personnel profile can be viewed online.