Glenn Franklin White was a United States Marine who was killed in action during during the Battle of Tarawa on Betio Island of the Gilbert Islands, now part of Kiribati. His remains were located in March of 2019 and identified on June 7, 2021.
Glenn White was born on July 27, 1924 to Jesse "Frank" and Eva White in Emporia, Kansas and was the youngest of their three children. Growing up, he and his siblings spent time at the Strand Theater Frank worked at as the film projector. In 1936, Frank died from illness and Eva married Samuel Hildebrand, a local farmer, and kept her family at 101 South Rural Street on the outskirts of town.
White attended local schools, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he dropped out of high school to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. He enlisted on February 10, 1942 from a recruiting station in Kansas City, Missouri. After completing boot camp in San Diego, California, he was assigned to Company A, First Battalion, 6th Marines. He first saw combat in the Solomon Islands and was promoted to Private First Class after the battle. In October of 1943, the 6th Marines set sail from New Zealand to Betio Island.
Battle of Tarawa
The 2nd Marine Division landed on Betio Island on November 20, 1943 as part of Operation Galvanic, the US Invasion of the Gilbert Islands. The mission was to take control of the airfield on the Tarawa Atoll so that Japanese Imperial Army would be less close to the United States and the United States would be closer to Japan. Most of the fighting would occur on Betio Island as it was the largest of the islands on Tarawa Atoll. This battle would prove critical for the American offensive and the first time they faced serious Japanese opposition as they were well-supplied and prepared and fought to the last man standing.
White landed on the island on the night of November 21, 1943. His company for the next day would fight in the southeastern coast of the island. By the evening of the November 22, 1943, the company was near the end of the main runway and dangerously overextended for nighttime defense. According to Baine Kerr, the executive officer of White's company, several Marines were out in a No-Man's-Land in front of the main line. Kerr sent a group of Marines, including White, to rescue those left behind. While the stranded Marines were rescued and returned, White stayed behind with his BAR to fight the incoming Japanese banzai force. Kerr called in artillery support where White was located and in his words, "The destroyers offshore could fire, and we had all our mortars going, and we were bringing the fire up very close to the line because that's where the Japanese were. Of course, I sat there realizing that White was right where we were calling in artillery and bombs and everything else. It was a tough thing to think about."
The next day, White's body was located and his cause of death was from shrapnel wounds to head and chest. Additionally, US Forces would take over the island. Overall, 1,696 U.S. Marines were killed and 2,101 were wounded and 4,690 Imperial Japanese Army soldiers and construction laborers were killed and 146 were captured.
After his death, White was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for his actions. The medals were presented to his mother in the summer of 1944. His death was announced to his family on January 6, 1944.
White's remains were buried in Row D of Cemetery 33 on Betio Island. However, they were not recovered and identified when the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations between 1946 and 1947. In 1949, a military review board declared him non-recoverable.
His name is inscribed within the Courts of Missing at the Honolulu Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii and he has a memorial marker at Maplewood Memorial Lawn Cemetery in Emporia.
On March 2019, History Flight Inc. discovered what is thought of as Cemetery 33 on Betio Island. The remains of U.S. Marines found were sent to a DPAA laboratory and identified based on historical records, circumstances, dental analysis, and DNA evidence. Using these techniques, Glenn Franklin White's remains were identified on June 7, 2021. His identification was announced on July 7, 2021. He will be buried in American soil with full military honors.