The Final Journey Home

Hugh Thomason has been waiting for over 60 years for his half-brother to come back from World War II. Now, his wait is coming to an end.

In August, Clyde Thomason and his fellow, fallen 'Makin Raiders' will be welcomed home officially in their final resting place at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

"That will be gratifying to me," said Hugh Thomason.

Eight months after Pearl Harbor in August of 1942, U.S. Marine Corp launched a sneak attack of its own on the Japanese-held island of Makin in the west-central Pacific Ocean.

The bloody battle of Makin was the first Allied ground victory and a huge morale booster for the U.S. The troops, nicknamed the 'Makin Raiders', became heroes.

But left behind on the island were the bodies of 18 Marines killed in the fighting, including that of Hugh Thomason's half-brother Clyde.

"I just accepted the fact that his remains were unrecoverable, which is the way that we had been informed by headquarters," Hugh Thomason said.

There were attempts to recover the bodies during and after the war, but none were successful.

"The first search was made shortly after the Army invaded in 1943," said Hugh Thomason.  "They found nothing at all." 

But in 1998, under new pressure from the surviving 'Makin Raiders', the U.S. Army Central Identification Lab in Hawaii went back to the island to search for the remains of its fallen heroes.

"It is a very small, very remote island," said forensic anthropologist William Belcher. "We hired several locals to help with the excavations."

Among those hired was Burmeoa Takerei, who helped bury the soldiers 56 years ago when he was just 16 years old.

Tokarei guided the recovery team back to within 10 feet of the burial site where anthropologists found live grenades, name tags, bits of uniforms and the remains of 17 bodies.

"Once we looked at the equipment, we knew that we had American equipment and very likely the Raider location," said forensic anthropologist Brad Stum. "It was very, very exciting."

The remains were flown back to the U.S. and identified.

"Among these were the body of the remains of my half brother Clyde," said Hugh Thomason. "I will be glad to bring all of this to a close as far as the ceremony, and the honors that will be paid to all of these young men."

Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.