by Ben Brunsting/Staff Writer
On September 17 Pfc. Louis Wiesehan, Jr was finally brought home to his surviving family after 77 years of being buried in an unidentified grave on Betio island Northeast of Papua New Guinea. Louis Wiesehan, Jr reportedly died on Nov. 21, 1943 on the second day of fighting against Japanese resistance on Betio Island during the Vietnam war.
It’s hard for many Americans to think what it’s like to be away from home for more than a week, but Wiseham was 6,797 mi from home for over 77 years. His life was unfortunately lost during the taking of Betio island, an island 3,577 km Northeast of Papua New Guinea, against Japanese resistance. It was called the Battle of Tarawa. The attack on the island lasted for three days, of which Wiseham and 1,000 other Marines and sailors paid the ultimate sacrifice, according to https://www.wishtv.com/news/local-news/wwii-veterans-remains-to-return-to-indiana-76-years-after-his-death-in-battle/. Now known as one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific during WWII, in addition to the high number of casualties, the Battle of Tarawa left more than 2,000 wounded.
“ ‘There’s a quote from the commander in charge of defending Tarawa that goes, ‘A million men cannot take Tarawa in 100 years. The Marines did it in 76 hours,’ ” said Col. Kirk Mullins, program manager for Advanced Amphibious Assault at Program Executive Officer Land Systems.
He continued, “It’s hard for us today to put what transpired over those three days into context—the difficulty of trying to win the battle in an area where hundreds of your fellow Marines lay dead. ’”(Qtd in https://www.mcbhawaii.marines.mil/News/News-Stories/Article/2377928/an-overdue-homecoming-77-years-later-marine-finds-his-way-home/. )
The men that were left standing gathered their fallen comrades to be buried in rushed and unmarked graves on the island. After the closing of the Vietnam war the 604th division of the Quartermaster Graves Registration Company were tasked with recovery of Americans in the Pacific. But the sheer amount of men lost on that day proved overwhelming, and the rushed graves made it so not every grave was obvious. So Wiseham was pronounced nonrecoverable along with the overwhelming majority of his comrades.
That changed, however, in late 2019 when the Defense Prisoner of War/MIA Accounting Agency released a social media post listing identified dead Marines, according to https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/pal-item/obituary.aspx?n=pfc-louis-wiesehan-junior&pid=196773704&fhid=13556. It was on such a post where a fellow Marine from Richmond identified his name. Mullins, the presenting officer at Wiesehan’s funeral, grew up in Richmond and felt as though it was his duty to go home to pay respect to his fellow Marine. Mullins reached out to a contact by the name of Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew to get information on Wiesehan’s funeral service. But Mullins didn’t expect Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew to ask him to be the presenting officer of the funeral service.
Pfc. Louis Wiesehan Jr came home on Thursday, September 17, 2020, and was escorted from the Indiana National Airport to Richmond where he was buried at Goshen Cemetery two days later. According to https://hmgccity.com/louis-wiesehan-jr, he received a Purple Heart, American Defense Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the Presidential Unit Citation for his service in Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
Pfc. Louis Wiesehan Jr before going to war
Photo also included in all three sources