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Utah soldier killed in WWII finally comes home

(Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – A military homecoming 76 years in the making.

The remains Robert James Hatch, a Marine who died in battle during World War Two, are finally brought home to Utah.

(Robert James Hatch, family photo)

Thomas Hatch never had a chance to meet his “Uncle Jim,” but he heard a lot of stories about him.  Jim died during the Battle of Tarawa, which lasted three days.

Thomas Hatch says, “The Japanese realized they were running out of real estate and counter-attacked.  My uncle was shot and died almost instantaneously.”

According to the stories, things were happening so fast during the fighting, several fallen soldiers were buried in a common grave while the battle was still happening.  Hatch says the military tried going back to find these soldiers, however, “The grave was lost and the remains declared ‘non-recoverable,’” he says.

All of that changed in March of this year.  The Hatch family was told the remains of “Uncle Jim” had been finally found.

Hatch says, “They used cadaver-sniffing dogs and ground scanning radar in the area where so many were buried, temporarily, and found the remains.”

Dental records, chest x-rays and DNA tests confirmed the identity of the body.  Hatch says since his uncle was born and raised in Davis County, it was important for “Uncle Jim” to come back.  He says his grandmother went to her grave without her son ever coming home.

“My grandmother is probably happy today that her son is coming home,” Hatch says.

Troopers from the UHP and members of the Patriot Guard Riders escorted Hatch’s coffin from Salt Lake International Airport to a funeral home in Bountiful.