DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) — Seventy-four-years after Marine Sgt. James Hubert was killed and buried in battle, his relatives hold a box of artifacts that fell with him that terrible day.
“This would be the one component that’s recognizable, this is his utility knife or jackknife,” said Jay Hagen, his nephew, as he looked through the box.
Jay’s uncle, Jim, was killed on Nov. 21, 1943, in the bloody battle for Tarawa. He was fighting on the Pacific island of Betio in the first major U.S. offensive of WWII.
The battle for the Tarawa atoll was a turning point in the fight to secure the Pacific islands from the Japanese.
“When he was killed in ’43, I was only 2 years old,” said Hubert’s sister, Mary Hagen.
Mary never knew her big brother – only the medals and purple heart passed on to her parents.
“I remember when that came, she (mother) really fell apart,” Mary said.
Her parents died never knowing where their son was buried. For them, Memorial Days came and went without a marker on which to lay a wreath.
“It was very surprising when I got the call,” Mary said. “They said they had found some remains.”
It was June 2015 when a contractor working on the island of Betio was digging up a parking lot. Mark Noah of History Flight notified the Defense POW/MIA Agency that his group had uncovered an unmarked burial trench on Betio Island.
History Flight’s discovery turned out to be Cemetery #27, also known as “The Lost Cemetery” of Tarawa.
Suddenly, a large number of human remains appeared in the soil, the first of what would be many skeletal remains of fallen U.S. Marines.
As it turned out, 40 U.S. Marines were buried there after falling in battle.
“And the list goes, 24 servicemen and the last line was 16 unknowns. He (uncle Jim) was one of them,” Jay said.
The remains of Hubert were identified and confirmed through DNA testing by a military laboratory in Hawaii. James Joseph Hubert was unknown no more.
“I kept referring to the situation as bittersweet,” said Mary, through tears.
For the first time in 74 years, it was finally real and physical, as they came face-to-face with some of the items discovered along with Hubert’s remains.
Among her brother’s personal items was the dog tag that hung around his neck.
“I was kind of choked up to say the least,” Mary said.
On a hilltop at Duluth’s Calvary Cemetery, in a section called soldier’s rest, Hubert will return to his native Minnesota soil.
“Every Memorial Day there will be a flag put up and a place where we will come to,” Jay said.
Hubert will be buried close to the parents who sacrificed their precious son only to never see him home.
“We walk by the POW/MIA flags every day,” Jay said. “This is an MIA, this is a return. This is a success story, it has to be told it must be told.”
Hubert’s remains will arrive in the Twin Cities from Hawaii on the morning of July 14.
Plans are for the remains to be taken to nearby Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where he will lie in repose to allow Twin Cities veteran’s groups to pay respects.
Arrival time at Fort Snelling National Cemetery is tentatively scheduled sometime between 6:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. on July 14.
More information can be found at here.