At 21, Robert J. Hatch was killed alongside about 1,000 other U.S. service members in a battle against Japanese fighters for the small island of Betio.
He made it through three days of fighting before he died on Nov. 22, 1943, and was buried either alone somewhere on the island or in a cemetery there.
The military attempted to find his body in 1946, but couldn’t. Three years later, Hatch’s remains were declared “non-recoverable.”
Yet, thanks to advanced technology and a nonprofit group called History Flight, this December, the Woods Cross native’s remains are finally coming back home to Utah.
The group has continued to scour the island for additional remains, and that led to the discovery in March of Hatch’s body in a previously unknown burial trench in the cemetery.
Scientists with the agency used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis and material evidence to link the remains to Hatch.
His burial is set for Dec. 14 in Bountiful.
Hatch is the latest Utahn to have served during the World War II era to have been recovered decades later. Earlier this year, the remains of Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Lynn W. Hadfield was buried at the Utah Veterans Cemetery & Memorial Park in Bluffdale.
In 2017, Navy Musician 1st Class Elliott Larsen was buried in Monroe almost 76 years after Larsen died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Department of Defense identified the remains of Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Bryant E. Poulsen, of Salt Lake City, in 2015. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Nate Carlisle contributed to this report.