Nearly a century after he disappeared and was listed as missing in action (MIA), United States Marine Corps Cpl. Anthony G. Guerriero will be laid to rest next week with full military honors. Guerriero’s niece, Toni Rogers, a staff assistant in the MGH Transplant Division, led her family’s efforts to help bring her uncle home and will be on hand during the ceremony to honor his memory.
“My uncle enlisted in the Marines in 1940 when he was 18, and he served in many battles in the South Pacific aboard the USS Quincy,” says Rogers. “After fighting in the Battle of Guadalcanal, and a bout with malaria, he returned home on leave and was chosen to become a bodyguard to then-President Roosevelt.”
Guerriero, however, wanted to stay with his unit, Rogers says, and in November 1943, the 21 year old was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division. “They landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands,” she says. “Over several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded.” Sadly, Rogers adds, Guerriero was one of the men who perished in the battle. He died sometime on the second day of fighting, Nov. 21, 1943.
Despite numerous requests to the Marines and Navy, Guerriero’s body was never recovered and his immediate family would not see a change to his MIA status during their lifetime. In recent years, however, due to advances in DNA technology, 94 sets of unidentified remains interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Honolulu, Hawaii, were exhumed for identification.
Three years ago, the Marine POW/MIA office notified Rogers that one set of remains might be her uncle. They asked if Rogers, as a niece and next of kin, would be willing to provide a DNA sample to help confirm the identity.
“Of course, I jumped at the chance to provide the DNA,” Rogers says. “It’s been a long wait, and Congress had to grant permission to disinter the remains for testing. But then, the call finally came in July from the Marines that through the DNA testing, they could positively identify my uncle as being one of the Marines interred at Punchbowl.”
Thanks to DNA testing, all 94 sets of remains have now been identified, putting a close to this unresolved chapter in World War II history and helping soldiers’ loved ones – like Rogers – to heal.
On Nov. 14 Rogers and her family will travel to Washington, D.C. to honor Guerriero, who will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Read more articles from the 11/10/17 Hotline issue.