Pfc. William Brandenburg was nearing his 18th birthday on Nov. 20, 1943, the day the United States Army landed on Betio, a small Japanese-occupied island in the central Pacific. He died two days later, one among over 1,000 American soldiers killed in the effort to dislodge the invaders.
He returned to his hometown in New Miami, Ohio, on Thursday for a burial with full military honors on Saturday.
No one still living there remembers him, according to funeral organizer David Mangus. The decades-long search for his remains had been led by his late sister, May Black, who spent the rest of her life reaching out to veterans’ organizations in search of closure. She submitted her DNA to the Pentagon in 2011, hoping they could match it to one of the unidentified casualties of the Pacific conflict.
“That’s the bitter part of this,” said Black’s daughter, Patricia Moore. “She searched for so long. Now it’s coming to pass and she’s not here. It’s heartbreaking.”
The route from Brown-Dawson-Flick Funeral Home to Hickory Flats Cemetery was lined with friends and well wishers Saturday.
He was buried there alongside his father, who died shortly before his enlistment, and his mother, who received a Purple Heart after his death but died waiting for a body to come home.
Mangus, who is a veteran, said it doesn’t matter that he didn’t know Brandenburg.
“He was a 17-year-old veteran killed in action,” he said. “Never got to experience the rest of his life. He gave his life for our country and our freedom. He’s a brother, a brother in the service. Plain and simple.”