The recently identified remains of a former Valley Stream resident who perished nearly 75 years ago during an intense World War II battle on a Pacific island are to be buried with military honors Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.
Marine Cpl. Walter G. Critchley was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands on Nov. 20, 1943.
Critchley, 24, was among the first killed during several days of fierce fighting that eventually claimed the lives of some 1,000 Marines. He had attended what was Valley Stream High School in the 1930s before his family moved to Norwich, NY.
Although it was a costly victory, military historians consider the Battle of Tarawa to have been important because it gave American forces a critical toehold from which to launch attacks to dislodge Japanese forces from the western Pacific.
Beginning in 1946, American forces began recovering the hastily buried remains of GIs casualties from Betio. But Critchley’s were not among them, and a military review board in 1949 declared his body non-recoverable.
That changed in 2015, when a nongovernmental organization, History Flight, Inc., notified the Pentagon that it had located what appeared to be an American burial ground on the island. They provided the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency with the remains of what were believed to be 35 U.S. Marines who had perished in the battle.
Forensic scientists identified Critchley by matching his dental and other remains with his military records and circumstantial evidence, according to a Defense Department release.
Of the more than 400,000 Americans killed during WWII, some 72,990 — many of them Navy personnel lost in sea battles — have never been recovered. Military officials remain hopeful that the remains of some 26,000 U.S. service members may still be recoverable.