Long-Lost Remains of WWII Veteran Finally Laid To Rest on Memorial Day After 75 Years


As Americans remembered the lives of soldiers who have died while serving in the military on Memorial Day, one veteran’s remains were finally laid to rest after they were missing for almost 75 years.

Navy Reserve Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class Thomas J. Murphy was killed in action during World War II on Nov. 20, 1943. He was only 22 years old.

The sailor was one of the 1,696 killed in action during the battle of Tarawa Atoll. The U.S. still won the battle and provided the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet a launching point to advance the Central Pacific Campaign against Japan.

Due to the number of casualties from the specific battle, mass graves were made for all the bodies and they were not easy to track.

After he died in the battle in the Gilbert Islands, his remains were unaccounted for 74 years.

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A 2015 construction project in Tarawa finally uncovered Cemetery 27 and Murphy’s remains.

He was officially accounted for on Sept. 14, 2017, and his identification was announced on Oct. 11, 2017, using dental records and anthropological remains.

Murphy’s remains were flown into Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Friday, May 25, 2018.

The Patriot Guard Riders escorted the remains from the airport to Hamilton, Ohio. Although Murphy’s parents and siblings are deceased, his surviving nieces and nephews were present for the occasion.

“His name was never mentioned to us because it was so painful for my father, so when my mother died in 2011 we were clearing out family things,” Oliver said. “I came across a purple box and a news clipping.”

She had no idea that her uncle has never received a proper burial until her family got a call from the Navy in October identifying his remains.

Murphy was buried with full military honors on Memorial Day next to his brother Lester Oliver.

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“We have closure now that we are able to have his remains brought back and laid to rest next to my grandfather and for that, I’m grateful for everyone that’s involved,” Chris Huentelman, Murphy’s great-nephew, said.

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith