BOUNTIFUL, Utah — A family is preparing to lay a Marine to rest, 76 years after he was killed in action in World War II.
Pfc Robert James Hatch is coming home after his remains were finally recently identified.
One headstone memorializes brothers Clyde Eugene Hatch and Robert James Hatch. They were killed 8 months apart: Gene in Guam, and Jim in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. Gene’s remains were sent home, but Jim was declared non-recoverable in 1949.
Tom Hatch knows him as Uncle Jim, though he never knew him at all. Jim was only 21 years old when he died in November 1943, It was a 3 and a half day battle, where about 1,000 marines and sailors were killed.
“Uncle Jim was killed almost immediately trying to set up a machine gun. My grandmother had 3 soldiers who witnessed it go visit her after the war. A soldier whose letter is part of the military record, states he saw him buried in a grave with other men,” explained Tom.
Mrytle Hatch wrote to the military, hoping they could find her son.
“She died in 1979, 40 years after that last letter without satisfaction,” said Tom about his grandmother. And then Tom’s father Alvin Hatch died in 2007, still not knowing where his younger brother was.
But recently a group called History Flight, using cadaver dogs and other technology, searching in that area, discovered a trench with skeletons. Defense Department scientists then used dental, anthropological, and chest radiograph comparison analysis on the remains.
This September, the family got a phone call. They had identified Jim.
“So we are looking at from his death in 1943 until now, 76 years to get him home,” said Tom.
The military is flying the remains home on December 12. A Marine Corp service will be held December 14 at the Bountiful City Cemetery.
Tom said the military offered to bury Marine PFC Robert James Hatch in Arlington National Cemetery, and he paused and choked up when he said, “We felt it most appropriate for him to come home to Bountiful.”
Home to where he grew up, on a farm in Woods Cross with three sons who all enlisted after Pearl Harbor — home to where his family is.
“You can see from the headstones, he’ll be 5 feet away from his parents, 7 feet from his older brother, and 12 feet from grandfather,” pointed out Tom.
Tom says his father Alvin never talked about his 2 brothers dying in the war, it was too painful. And he knows it was painful for his grandmother never to have Jim come home. He also recently learned Jim was engaged to be married before he left.
“It gives me satisfaction knowing he is coming home,” he said.
Listen below as Tom Hatch talks about his Uncle’s death, disappearance, and discovery.
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