LARNED — Jack Harvey Krieger, 27, was the first casualty of World War II from Pawnee County. He will finally be interred in his resting place with full Military Honors by the United States Marines and the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday, May 28, at 11 a.m. in the Larned Cemetery.
This is his story.
Mrs. Clark (Judy) Redding, Larned, is a second cousin of Jack’s. Jack was killed in battle in 1943 and was listed as a “Missing-In-Action” soldier. Judy’s great-aunt Etelka Reed Krieger was the mother of Jack. “Telk” knew where Jack had died, but his remains had not been retrieved. She gave him a funeral and a gravestone was set in place.
“The fact that he has been found and is coming home is deeply meaningful to Clark and I. We’ve been decorating his gravesite for as long as I remember,” she remarked.
“I never knew Jack, since I was born in 1947, four years after his death. But, I grew up with the legend of Jack. The VFW in Larned was named after him. He was the first local fellow to be killed in the war,” she said.
A tale of honor
PFC Krieger, a demolitions specialist, died on Nov. 20, 1943, during the invasion of Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands (now the Republic of Kiribati).
Krieger was posthumously awarded the Victory Medal - World War II, the Purple Heart, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and today is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial Site.
Although Krieger died in the assault on Nov. 20, the battle did not end until Nov. 23, when most Japanese resistance ended. Along with Krieger, the battle suffered 997 Marine casualties plus 30 sailors (medical personnel) dead. After the battle, Marines hastily gathered the dead, wrapped each body in tarps, and moved them to collection points for burial.
The remains were buried in isolated graves, at one of the six cemeteries on the island, or at sea, if, in fact, those wounded were transported to a ship and died on board. By this time, the casualty count had neared 1,000 men. By the end of the war, the United States was finally able to begin the task of retrieving the war dead. Over 500 had been left behind.
The War Department (now the Department of Defense) assigned the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS), U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, the responsibility of recovering and identifying fallen U.S. service personnel around the world. In 1946, the 604th QM GR Co. recovered 532 sets of remains of the more than 1,100 U.S. servicemen who died during the Pacific Theater battle on Betio island.
But Krieger’s remains were not recovered. On Oct. 7, 1949, a military review board declared Krieger’s remains non-recoverable.
Because of the rapid cycle of occupation of the island, the progression of the war, and poor memories of survivors, they were unable to locate almost half of the known casualties of the battle. Sometimes they had been moved; other times, the monuments or markers had disappeared. As a part of the effort to locate and properly identify known burials, the government eventually moved all of the remains found on Tarawa to a central collection point in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Remains that could not be identified were subsequently buried as Unknowns in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
Exhaustive efforts to identify all of the remains continued, although none of the identifications fit for PFC Krieger. It was a heavy burden and a grievous sorrow to Telk that the remains of her son were not yet located.
Never giving up
And then the technique of DNA analysis was discovered.
In 2013, through a partnership with History Flight Inc., The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) laboratory received remains recovered from a site believed to be Cemetery 25 on Betio Island.
On April 3, 2017, DPAA disinterred the remains from the Honolulu resting place and sent them to the lab for analysis.
To identify Krieger’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) DNA analysis, dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
Jack had no brothers or sisters. His death being over 77 years ago, few are living who could carry his DNA. Judy’s dad was Jack’s only cousin. But the DNA needed in this case must be DNA passed through the females, not the males. Her father’s DNA was not therefore useful since the succession had to be female to female for the most accurate diagnosis.
Somebody had researched back four generations and found out that Judy’s Maternal great-grandmother had a sister. That sister had a granddaughter and the research team located Shelia Poole, his maternal cousin, in Florida. She donated the necessary DNA.
The laboratory was able to match the remains with her DNA. They found Jack.
Here is a fascinating part of the story. Remember that “somebody” had to research and seek out this information. There is an organization known as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Laboratory. They work with the History Flight whose sole purpose is to find these individuals, document their lives, identify them, and bring them home.
History Flight is a non-governmental, non-profit charity in which 96 percent of donations go directly to pay for costs of finding and recovering the 84,000 missing service members from America’s wars of the 20th Century. They send search and recovery teams all over the world to locate loss sites of missing service people, and to recover them.
They never stop. And the passion of these workers is pretty amazing.
A woman by the name of Jennifer Morrison originally contacted the Reddings to find out where a DNA relative might be found. Then, an ex-Marine female by the name of Hattie Johnson, and an accompanying Sergeant Maine called the Reddings and flew to Kansas, arriving in Larned to spend the day with the family in order to learn more about Jack. Hattie had compiled information of Jack’s entire military career.
“Hattie is a beautiful person,” Judy said. She is concerned and passionate about each MIA that she researches. She acknowledges that she is a detective. She does this full-time, locating families, and compiling history of these now identified soldiers. She was fascinating.”
“The History Flight group is not taxpayer funded. Someone is giving a lot of money for this noble cause,” she added.
“And now Jack is coming home and he will have a full military burial on Memorial Day in the Larned Cemetery. This is a very emotional event for us.”
The Marines pay for three tickets for transporting relatives to the service. Therefore, Shelia Poole and her granddaughter are coming as well as Judy’s sister. A debit card has also been provided by an anonymous donor for needed expenses. Shelia, after all, provided the miraculous DNA.
The Defense Accounting Agency has provided a bound folder with every bit of information about Jack that can be known. The book shows his skeleton, where only two bones were missing — his femur and right arm. There are maps, dental and medical records, letters to the family from the War Department, and documents and pictures explaining the cause of death. Historical records and information regarding this process and Jack Krieger information can be accessed at the Santa Fe Trail Center in Larned.
There are more out there
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently, there are 72,917 service members still unaccounted for from World War II; approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable. Krieger’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, along with the others killed or lost in World War II. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
“Leave no man behind” has finally been fulfilled for Jack Krieger, Pawnee County’s first World War II casualty.
For more information on battle at Tarawa online, see http://video.foxnews.com/v/5787588833001/?#sp=show-clips.