Marine Pfc. Robert James Hatch, killed in World War II, is buried in Utah after 76 years

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marines carry the remains of Marine Pfc. Robert J. Hatch on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. Hatch was killed in action Nov. 22, 1943 on the island of Betio.

Bountiful • Marine Pfc. Robert James Hatch received a homecoming fit for a war hero Saturday — even if his return was delayed 76 years.

American flags and supporters lined the streets in Bountiful between a mortuary and the city cemetery, which was the final stop for Hatch’s remains. Hatch’s family, many of whom he never got to meet, greeted him there.

Hatch’s peers called him “Jimmy,” though the generations that followed learned to refer to him as Jim. “We’re very glad Uncle Jim could come home,” said Hatch’s nephew, Tom Hatch.

(Courtesy photo) Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Robert J. Hatch, of Woods Cross, Utah, killed in action in 1943.

He said Saturday’s burial was an event the family never thought would happen.

Tom Hatch explained that after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Jim Hatch and a younger brother, Clyde Eugene Hatch, traveled from Logan, where they had been studying at what was then called the Agricultural College of Utah, back to the family home in Bountiful to enlist in the Marine Corps.

Jim Hatch survived the Marines’ campaign at Guadalcanal then fought for three days against the Japanese on the small island of Betio. He was killed there on Nov. 22, 1943, at age 21. Tom Hatch said the family has been told his uncle was readying his machine gun when he was shot to death.

Gene Hatch, as he was known in the family, died in fighting on Guam eight months to the day after Jim Hatch died. Pfc. Gene Hatch’s remains were returned to the family in 1948, Tom Hatch said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tom Hatch gives a life sketch of his uncle, Marine Pfc. Robert J. Hatch, at the Bountiful City Cemetery on Saturday Dec. 14, 2019. Hatch was killed in action Nov. 22, 1943 on the island of Betio.

Jim Hatch was buried on Betio Island, and the U.S. military couldn’t find his remains when it returned to collect its dead in 1946. A nonprofit group called History Flight returned to Betio decades later to search for the remains of Marines.

In March of this year, they found remains in a burial trench they hadn’t been able to locate. Steve Cassells, an archaeologist with History Flight who attended Saturday’s services, said History Flight was looking for Jim Hatch and other Marines in Row D of Cemetery 33.

“We had been trying for years to find Row D,” Cassells said, “and were beginning to think it was a myth — a legend.”

Then they looked in an area outside the known boundaries of the cemetery. It turned out Row D was not parallel to the rest of the burial trenches, Cassells said. Then, just as the discovery was made, Cassells said, the rainy season arrived and the water table rose above the bones, making extraction more complicated.

Scientists used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparisons and other evidence to confirm Jim Hatch’s remains were among those in the trench. Cassells said that on paper, at least, the remains of 300 or 400 Marines are still unaccounted for on Betio Island.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A flag is given to Charmain Hatch, sister-in-law of Marine Pfc. Robert J. Hatch at the Bountiful City Cemetery on Saturday Dec. 14, 2019. Hatch was killed in action Nov. 22, 1943 on the island of Betio.

The Hatch family made a discovery of their own recently. Tom Hatch said the family learned Jim Hatch had been engaged to be married. The fiancée married another man after Jim Hatch’s death, and her survivors reached out as the Hatches were preparing for Saturday’s burial.

After a Marine Corps honor guard fired rifles and sounded taps, a Marine handed a folded U.S. flag to Jim Hatch’s 98-year-old sister-in-law, Charmain Hatch.

Jane O’Bryant, 90, was one of the few people at Saturday’s funeral who knew Jim Hatch, as a first cousin to the Hatch brothers. She grew up in San Marino, Calif., and remembers coming to visit her family in Bountiful and Woods Cross, and she remembers Jim Hatch visiting her home when he was on leave from Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in southern California.

O’Bryant, who now lives in Lehi, called Jim Hatch “a sweet, gentle man, a very kind young man.”

Jim Hatch was buried near Gene Hatch and other family members. He is the latest Utahn who served during the World War II era to have been recovered decades later. Last month, U.S. Army Air Forces Tech. Sgt. Max W. Lower was buried in Lewiston.

In March, the remains of Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Lynn W. Hadfield was buried at Utah Veterans Cemetery & Memorial Park in Bluffdale.

In 2017, Navy Musician 1st Class Elliott Larsen was buried in Monroe almost 76 years after he 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.

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