World War II Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Albert Strange was laid to rest Wednesday at a cemetery in central Kentucky.
Strange, of Mammoth Cave, had been missing in action since 1943. He was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, which fought the Japanese on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands.
At age 18, Strange died in that battle, which lasted three days. He was one of about 1,000 Marines and sailors who were killed on the first day of the battle. Those men were buried in several battlefield cemeteries on the island.
Strange’s family never knew what happened to him until September 2016 when the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency requested DNA samples from his nieces, Carolyn Sturgeon and Marilyn Thompson.
In October, Sturgeon and Thompson learned their uncle’s remains had been identified.
Strange, who was close to his sister, the late Eva Marie Beal, was buried near her at the Cave City Cemetery, which is something Sturgeon said means a lot to her.
“It’s very special to me because this is where my mother is,” Sturgeon said. “They are back together again.”
She is pleased her uncle is buried in Cave City as opposed to being buried elsewhere.
“I’m glad he’s back home with my mother,” she said.
Strange’s remains, as well as those of several other Marines and sailors who died in the battle, were found by accident.
“The lady who came to my house told me there was a man who was building a carport and whenever they were digging the carport they found all of these bones, so they notified the officials and they came out and that’s where they found a lot of the bodies. His body was in the bunch,” Sturgeon said.
Strange received a full military funeral complete with a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps,” which were performed by Echo Company, 4th Tank Battalion of Fort Knox.
Capt. Tyler Garrett with Echo Company, 4th Tank Battalion said for him and his fellow Marines it was a big honor to be a part of Strange’s funeral.
“We have the honor as part of our duties as inspector instructors to do funerals all over Kentucky and Indiana. Last year, we were able to be part of 140 separate funerals,” Garrett said. “For this one, it is a unique opportunity to actually bring a Marine home, so it stands out from what we normally do.”
He continued that an added piece of being a part of Strange’s funeral is that they are able to give his family some closure after so many years of not knowing what happened to him.
Several people turned out for the funeral who did not know Strange or his family, including Dale Russell of Glasgow.
Russell is a Vietnam War veteran and said he came to the funeral because “he’s one of our brothers.”
Russell is also with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 5906 of Glasgow.
Also attending Strange’s funeral were sisters Deborah Dale and B.G. Roberts of Warren County. They are daughters of the late James Grinstead of Glasgow, a Korean War veteran.
“We do have a relative who is still missing from World War II. Omer Simmons was my dad’s cousin. They were crossing a river and later they realized nobody had seen him. We are still hopeful that maybe someday he will be returned,” Dale said. “There is a niece of his who has submitted DNA to the military. They are looking for a match.
Dale looked up more detailed information about Simmons on her smartphone. She found that Simmons drowned while attempting to swim across a river when troops were forced to withdraw near Buna, New Guinea.
They came to Strange’s funeral to honor him.
“We are so thankful for all the men and women who have served to make our country free so we can live the way that we live,” Roberts said.