More than 77 years after giving the ultimate sacrifice while fighting in World War II, Marine Sgt. Donald Stoddard was laid to rest in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, on Saturday.
The Marine went missing in November 1943, when he, along with the rest of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, assaulted the Japanese Army on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll, Republic of Kiribati, according to a Marine Corps press release.
Though it has been decades since the Marine gave the ultimate sacrifice, he came home to a plot that had been reserved for him by his parents during the war.
“His parents had so much faith in our country that they actually reserved a plot and headstone for him all those years ago, knowing that knew he would be brought home to be buried here next to them,” retired Marine Maj. Gen. William F. Mullen III, said during the funeral, according to the Corps.
Stoddard’s remains were discovered on the island after a building collapsed, exposing the gravesite of 30 fallen Marines.
“The building collapsed, and so we said, ‘now’s our chance to get in there and dig.’ It was preserved well because of the building,” Aundrea Thompson, a forensic archeologist who discovered the grave, said in the press release.
Thompson works with History Flight, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to researching, recovering and repatriating America’s service members back to United States of America,” according to its website.
“It’s strange because you’re the first person to lay eyes on this person in those 75 years when you wipe that soil away and find their remains, and you take your hands and pick him up and take him out of the ground,” Thompson said.
Once Soddard was identified, the Marine’s oldest living nephew and next of kin, Don McKeehan, was notified and a flight was arranged to return the Marine’s remains to Colorado.
Though there are not many people alive who knew Soddard, hundreds attended the funeral to pay respects for the World War II veteran.
Many of those in attendance were current and former members of 1/6, who ensured the Marine’s casket received the French Fourragere, earned by the battalion in World War I.
“Being a Marine is already a brotherhood, and then add to that being in the infantry, then the community just gets smaller — 1/6 alone is a family within itself,” Staff Sgt. Ryan Jaskulka, a platoon sergeant with 1/6 who attended the funeral, said in the press release.
“To be able to give him the honors he deserves after this many years, it’s humbling,” he added.
One Marine veteran in attendance was Soddard’s great-great-nephew Brendan Jarvis who served in the Corps as a dog handler.
Jarvis did not know until recently that one of his relatives had fought as a Marine in World War II, the press release said.
“Honestly, I’m just super honored to have somebody in my family serve, especially during World War II,” Jarvis said in the release.
“Being a Marine, you talk about sacrifice,” he added.
“Everyone thanks you for your service and everything like that, but a moment like this lets me finally see what that sacrifice actually looks like by seeing everyone come together and welcome this hero home.”