MARION, Ind. – Family came together Thursday to honor a man who fought for his country in World War II, but his remains were left undiscovered for 76 years.
Fred Evert Freet, who was a private in the United States Marine Corps, was only 18 years old when he was killed on November 20, 1943. It happened during a battle on Betio Island as U.S. Naval ships approached Tarawa Atoll. Thousands of lives were lost over a 76-hour span in the fight.
Freet's family was notified of his death, and when the war ended, the search began for his remains and those of other American casualties. By 1949, with nothing found, Freet was officially declared as killed in action and his remains declared unrecoverable.
In 2015, a non-profit called History Flight began excavating the battle site and found the remains of soldiers who were deemed unrecoverable.
Freet's remains were tested, including dental records and DNA matching, which positively identified him.
"They wanted my DNA," said Bill Freet, Fred's nephew. "They were finding these guys and found Fred in 2015."
Bill gave over a DNA sample. He said he still can't believe they found his uncle who he never met.
Bill was at Thursday's service, along with Freet's half-brother, Roger Covey, who received the American flag draped over Freet's casket. The flag was given to family as a symbol for a soldier's service and sacrifice to his country.
"Really a state of shock," said Covey, who was 4 years old when Fred left home.
Covey said he remembered Fred saying goodbye to everyone and walking out the front door. It was the last time he ever saw him alive.
"They found him," said Covey. "Actually, after they sent a letter saying they were giving up. They weren’t going to look anymore."
Freet was laid to rest at Marion National Cemetery. He was given a full military service burial.
He was posthumously issued the following awards and decorations for his service:
- Purple Heart medal for his wounds received in action resulting in his death
- Combat Action Ribbon for his service during WWII
- Presidential Unit Citation for serving in the 2nd Marine Division on Tarawa
- Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Campaign Star
- WWII Victory Medal
- Rifle Marksman Badge