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Young Marine from Queens ‘finally home’ 72 years after his death


Nineteen-year-old Marine John F. "Jack" Prince was killed in World War II action in the Pacific in 1943. His body was lost for seven decades, but was recently found by History Flight, a nonprofit which searched for those lost in the Battle of Tarawa. Prince was laid to rest Friday, June 17, 2016, at Calverton National Cemetery with full military honors. (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

Jack Prince is “finally home.”

The young Marine died in a bloody assault on a Japanese-held island during World War II, but his Queens family was denied a burial because his remains were never recovered.

The family’s long wait finally ended Friday — 72 years after Prince’s death.

More than 200 people gathered at St. Gregory the Great church in Bellerose for a funeral Mass that was both somber and celebratory. Pfc. John F. Prince was later buried at Calverton National Cemetery with full military honors.

“It’s really a miracle,” said Steven Getzoff, Prince’s nephew-in-law. “We never thought poor Uncle Jack would ever come home.”

Prince’s remains returned to New York on Wednesday. The 19-year-old died on Betio, an island in the Gilbert Islands atoll in the Pacific Ocean, on Nov. 20, 1943, during the fierce fighting known as the Battle of Tarawa.

More than 1,000 American soldiers, including Prince, were killed. They were buried in makeshift graveyards scattered on the island, according to History Flight, a nonprofit that recovers and returns the remains of missing service members.

Prince’s family had assumed he “was shot in the water” with no chance of recovery, said his niece Lorraine Ryan, 55, of Floral Park. A military board had confirmed as much.

After the war, efforts to recover Prince’s body were unsuccessful, but starting in 2006 a History Flight team labored to find and identify the fallen Marines. In June 2015, they discovered an unmarked mass grave that included Prince’s body, using a cadaver dog and ground-penetrating radar.

Corinne D’Anjou, a forensic dentist with the group who helped identify Prince, attended Friday’s burial.

“This is really emotional for me because it was such an honor to a part of that mission,” she said.

Prince grew up in Bellerose, playing baseball and leading a group of neighborhood kids, said Ned Hudson, 90, of Dennis, Massachusetts, who knew Prince as a boy.

“Jack Prince was the boy I most admired and I most wanted to be like,” Hudson said in his eulogy. “After 72 years of being missing, Jack is finally home where he belongs.”

The services offered a connection to the uncle she never knew, said Prince’s niece Margaret Getzoff, 63, of the Bronx. “It’s completion,” she said. “We’re completing a story.”

A Marine honor guard carried Prince’s flag-draped coffin and fired a three-volley salute at the burial in Calverton. The NYPD’s Emerald Society bagpipe band played “Amazing Grace.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars members proudly represented the Bellerose post that bears Prince’s name.

Prince was buried near his brother Richard, who died in 2014 and also served in World War II, along with some of his personal items, including rosary beads, that were found preserved in the Betio soil.

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