DANVILLE, Ill. (WAND) - The remains of a local Marine who died while fighting in World War II have finally been found and returned to his family, 76 years later.
Marine Pfc. Jack Benson was killed in November 1943 while fighting the Japanese. His family were told in December he was missing in action. Just a few days before Christmas, they would learn he had been killed. He was barely 21 years old.
The News Gazette reports the Van Zandts, who lived near Danville, initially thought Jack had been buried in a cemetery on the small Pacific Ocean island where he died. Later, they were told his remains were missing and declared “non-recoverable.”
However, on Sept. 23, 2019, he was finally accounted for.
Jack Benson Van Zandt enlisted in May 1942. He was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, which fought in the Pacific Theater and was part of the Guadalcanal campaign, the News Gazette reports.
In November 1943, he landed on Betio Island in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. The U.S. troops were trying to secure the small island and use it as a landing strip.
Jack was killed on Nov. 22, 1943, during the third day of battle. He was awarded a Purple Heart posthumously.
While the family first thought he and other fallen troops had been buried on the island, it was later discovered there were no bodies in the spots where crosses were laid.
Jack's remains were deemed “non-recoverable" in 1949.
The News Gazette reports in 2014, a team from History Flight Inc. found a burial trench on the island that correlated with Cemetery 33, and excavations found multiple sets of remains.
Scientists used dental and anthropological analysis and material evidence to identify the remains, including Jack's.
Most of his remains were found. Only a small bone from a toe was missing.
His skull had two large holes in it, showing he had been shot in the head.
The News Gazette said Jack's surviving family are now deciding where to bury his remains.