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Remains of Sanborn Marine killed in WWII identified


Posted By: volunteer (email)
Date: 5/10/2020 at 13:21:14

SANBORN, Iowa -- Ardis Dummett recalls traveling to California to see her brother Merton Riser before he shipped out to cross the Pacific Ocean and fight in World War II.

On one of those nights during the visit, Riser came to the hotel room in which Dummett was staying with their mother, Elsie Riser. Proudly wearing his Marine dress uniform, he was quite a sight.

"He enlisted. He didn't want to be drafted. He wanted to be a Marine. He was very proud," Dummett said.

That visit was the last time Dummett saw her brother.

Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Merton R. Riser was killed at age 19 on Nov. 20, 1943, the first day of battle on Betio, a small island in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Riser was among the Americans killed who were not immediately identified and was buried as an unknown.

He's no longer unknown.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency on June 20 accounted for his remains. Dummett said she was notified a month or two ago.

"I was sad and overjoyed all at the same time. You definitely had mixed emotions," she said.

Riser's remains arrived in Omaha on Friday. He will be returned to Sanborn on Monday. Dummett said she's happy that her brother will be home and buried with full military honors.

"It's perfectly wonderful that he'll be buried at home next to his mother and dad," said Dummett, who was 10 years old when her parents, John and Elsie, were notified that their son was missing in action. A second telegram informed the family Riser was lost at sea.

"I don't think mother ever really got over it," Dummett said.

Riser was working with his father on their farm when he enlisted in the Marines at age 18. He had become a crack shot after years of hunting on the farm, Dummett said, and he received a medal as an expert rifleman in the Marines.

A member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, Riser was one of approximately 1,000 American Marines and sailors killed at Betio. More than 2,000 were wounded during the three-day battle, which annihilated a Japanese force of 4,500 that had occupied the island.

Because of low tides, U.S. forces had to disembark from landing craft farther from shore than planned and wade through the water to the beach. They were easy targets for the Japanese defending the island.

Though costly in American lives, the victory at Betio provided the U.S. Pacific fleet a base from which to launch assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands in an island-hopping campaign that continually drew nearer to Japan as the war progressed and ultimately ended with the United States victorious.

According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, U.S. service members who died on Betio were buried in battlefield cemeteries. Remains recovery operations were conducted in 1946 and 1947, but Riser's were not among those identified. By 1949, unidentified remains found on Tarawa were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

On Nov. 21, 2016, Riser's remains were disinterred for identification, the DPAA said in a news release.

Dummett remembers her family was informed that remains of service members lost on Betio were being checked, but they were not told whether it was suspected that Riser's remains were among those being tested.

"They gave us no notification that he had been found," Dummett said.

DNA from a cousin was used to identify Riser, said Dummett, the youngest of four children. Her sister Norene (Pry) and brother Merle have died. Merton's death affected them all, Dummett said.

"We were a close family," she said. "He was missed greatly."

He was missed, but not forgotten. Finally, nearly 75 years after his death, he will back home with them.

From Sioux City Journal Nick Hytrek Sep 22, 2018


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