PFC James Ottis “Ottis” Whitehurst

PFC James Ottis “Ottis” Whitehurst

Blakely, Early County, Georgia, USA
Death 20 Nov 1943 (aged 20)
Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, Kiribati
Burial Cowarts, Houston County, Alabama, USA
Memorial ID 175243477 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Marine Corps Pfc. James O. Whitehurst, missing from World War II, has now been accounted for.

Ottis was the oldest son and 2nd of 4 children born to Benjamin Earnest & Mary Delilah (Grimes) Whitehurst. On May 20, 1941, the 18-year-old enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was stationed in San Diego, California until being shipping out into the Pacific Theater to face Japanese Imperial forces. Whitehurst's fought on Guadalcanal prior to being sent to Wellington, New Zealand for R&R and training for their next mission.

In November 1943, Whitehurst was assigned to Echo/2/8 of the 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands, in an attempt to secure the island. Over several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, but the Japanese were virtually annihilated.

It was November 20th (D-Day for the "Battle of Tarawa"), when young Ottis - just 20 years old - perished.

Despite the heavy casualties suffered by U.S. forces, military success in the battle of Tarawa was a huge victory for the U.S. military because the Gilbert Islands provided the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet a platform from which to launch assaults on the Marshall and Caroline Islands to advance their Central Pacific Campaign against Japan.

In the immediate aftermath of the fighting on Tarawa, U.S. service members who died in the battle were buried in a number of battlefield cemeteries on the island. In 1946 and 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio, but Whitehurst's remains were not recovered.

For more than 70 years, PFC Whitehurst lost in the sands of Betio where he and so many of his brothers-in-arms fell.

In June 2015, a nongovernmental organization, History Flight, Inc., notified DPAA that they discovered a burial site on Betio Island and recovered the remains of what they believed were 35 U.S. Marines who fought during the battle in November 1943. The remains were turned over to DPAA in July 2015.

In July of 2016, Charles Odom was put in contact with the United States Marine Corps and submitted Family Reference Sample for the identification of his Uncle Ottis; the DNA was not needed though as, to identify Whitehurst's remains, scientists from DPAA found sufficient a dental and anthropological analysis, which matched Ottis' records, as well as circumstantial and material evidence, including a dog tag recovered with his remains.

DPAA is appreciative to History Flight, Inc. and their partnership for this recovery mission.

Survivors include nephews, Larry (Jan) Palmer of Pansey AL, Charles Odom of Dothan AL and Paul Odom of Orlando FL; nieces, Delilah (Tony) Deese of Dothan AL, Paula (Frankie) Jackson of Skipperville AL and Pam (Myer) Holloway of Cowarts AL and sister-in-law, Doris C. Whitehurst of Cowarts AL.

Link - Online Memorial
Link - "WWII hero James Ottis Whitehurst finally laid to rest" Dothan Eagle
Link - "Remains of Ashford man killed during World War Two headed home" WTVY
Link - "Missing WWII Marine's remains to be brought home April 11" Dothan Eagle
Link - "Remains of Marine killed during WWII being returned to Ashford" Dothan Eagle
Link - DPAA News Release (05.Apr.2017)
Link - DPAA: Recent News & Stories (06.Jan.2017)

In 1964, the Tablets of the Missing were erected in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the "Punchbowl". PFC Whitehurst's name can be found among those listed there (56135292). A rosetta will soon be added next to his name to indicate that he is now home.

Family Members

Gravesite Details Reinterment set for 12 APR 2017

Sponsored by Ancestry


Planning a visit to Cowarts Cemetery?



  • Created by: JSMorrison
  • Added: 12 Jan 2017
  • Find A Grave Memorial 175243477
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for PFC James Ottis “Ottis” Whitehurst (11 Jan 1923–20 Nov 1943), Find A Grave Memorial no. 175243477, citing Cowarts Cemetery, Cowarts, Houston County, Alabama, USA ; Maintained by JSMorrison (contributor 47978427) .