The only thing worse than finding out your son has been killed in the line of duty is finding out that his body was never recovered. For Mattie Brandenburg, a mother in New Miami, Ohio, that became her reality when her son died on November 22, 1943.
The grieving mother never got any closure other than two small personal effects her son had owned. She passed in 1968, still not knowing the final resting place of her eighth child, only being told that he was killed by a missile.
Private first class William Edward Brandenburg was effectively lost to the world, a casualty in WWII during the Battle of Tarawa.
Since that bloody day, we’ve made many advancements in DNA testing and identifying remains once thought unidentifiable. Brandenburg is just one of many soldiers who has been identified and is receiving a proper burial, decades later.
Brandenburg was young when he joined the Marines. Sources indicate different birth dates for the young man, and some speculate he lied about his age and was really only 16 when he joined.
Either way, he left his mother and their farm (his father died in July 1942) and joined the Marines on November 27, 1942, not knowing he would die almost exactly a year later.
“He managed to survive the initial landing, and fought for at least two days and two nights before a bullet struck him in the abdomen on 22 November 1943,” the page reads. “The nineteen-year-old from New Miami died shortly thereafter.”
“He was one of 33 A/1/2 Marines killed in action on Betio; he had served with the company for just under six weeks.”
His body was one of many buried after the fight, and though his grave was listed, it was soon determined that that particular location did not hold his remains. He’d been buried elsewhere, and it was only in 2016 that experts started to close in on a positive identification.
“In October 2016, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed the remains of X-74 for identification,” the Missing Marines page states. “Using mtDNA analysis, anthropological analysis, and circumstantial evidence, they concluded that X-74 was William Edward Brandenburg. Official identification was announced on 25 September 2018.”
Brandenburg’s case was not uncommon, as many of his fellow Marines suffered a similar fate.
“Marines killed in action were buried where they fell or were buried in a large trench built during and after the battle,” according to the Department of Defense page on Tarawa remains. “These graves were typically marked with improvised markers, such as crosses made from sticks or an upturned rifle. Grave sites ranged in size from single isolated burials to large trench burials of more than 100 individuals, according to DPAA officials.”
Brandenburg’s sister, Mae Black, tried for years to locate her brother’s remains without success until her death in 2013. Despite that, there’s still at least one family member who is elated to have the honor of properly welcoming him back home.
Mae Black’s daughter, Patricia Moore, is Brandenburg’s niece. She obviously never met the man, but had a pretty clear mental picture of him painted by her mother’s descriptions.
When she got the call about Brandenburg’s identification, she was stunned.
“When the woman called me I fell down in a chair and had a meltdown,” she said, according to CNN. “I couldn’t even talk to her.”
The DOD website confirms that there are still 72,000 Americans who were involved in WWII that have not been identified.
But this is a start — and a good one. The young Marine will be laid to rest July 27, 2019, at Hickory Flat Cemetery in Hamilton, Ohio.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.