On Nov. 21, 1943, Marine Corporal Anthony G. Guerriero died battling Japanese forces at Betio, a tiny islet of Tarawa in the middle of the Pacific.
It was there, thousands of miles away from his home in the West End of Boston, that he sacrificed his life for his country in the midst of World War II. The 22-year-old Boston native was among approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors who perished in the Battle of Tarawa, and his unidentified remains were later interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (also known as the “Punchbowl”) in Honolulu.
Now, more than 70 years later, Guerriero’s remains have been sent to Washington, D.C., for burial in Arlington National Cemetery with military honors.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that Guerriero’s remains have been identified through DNA testing and he will be buried Tuesday.
His niece, Toni Rogers, traveled to Washington, D.C., with her husband and cousins to attend the funeral.
Rogers said she submitted a DNA sample about a year and a half ago, and she got the call in July of this year that her uncle had been officially accounted for.
“Oh my God, it was unbelievable,” she said. “It’s just kind of amazing that he’d been identified after all these years.”
She said her uncle was her mother’s younger brother, and the sixth of nine children. He grew up with his siblings in the North End and West End of Boston and joined the Marines when he was 18, she said.
“They were all very proud of him,” she said.
At the time of his death, his home address was on Allen Street in the West End. The building where his family lived, along with the other residences on Allen Street, no longer exist.
Rogers works as a staff assistant in the transplant center at Massachusetts General Hospital, a short walk from where her uncle once lived.
Guerriero was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division. Rogers said he served all over the world, and at one point came down with malaria.
After he recovered, he was given the opportunity to become a bodyguard for President Franklin D. Roosevelt — but he turned it down, so he could go back to serving overseas with his fellow Marines, Rogers said.
“He decided he wanted to be with his unit,” said Rogers. “He wanted to be back with his guys.”
Rogers said her mother often said that if he’d taken the Roosevelt assignment, he’d probably still be alive.
The Battle of Tarawa lasted for 76 hours. Deceased servicemen were buried on the battlefields on Betio, and their remains were recovered from the island after the war, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. By 1949, any unidentified remains had been sent to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
In August 2016, the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration approved the disinterment of 94 caskets from the Honolulu cemetery. Laboratory analysis revealed that one of the caskets contained Guerriero’s remains.
Officials said Guerriero’s name still appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the Punchbowl ,along with the other MIAs from WWII, and a rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate that he has been accounted for.
Rogers said she’s happy that her uncle was found after all of these years.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “It’s sad that none of his brothers and sisters are here to see this. He’s finally come home and can be laid to rest.”Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.