On November 21, 2020, Marine Corps Reserve PFC Frank Leroy Athon, Jr, 29, killed in World War II, will finally be laid to rest - in American soil - with full military honors.
Born June 12, 1914, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Frank was blessed to the union of Frank Sr and Ida (nee Cheevers) Athon. "Bud" later wed Miss Marcella Ballard.
On October 27, 1942, the 69", 170 lb, blue-eyed brunette walked into a hometown Marine Corps recruiting station and enlisted in the Reserves.
Private First Class Athon was with his brothers in Alpha Company, 1st Battalion of the 8th Marines (A-1/8) when they landed on Betio as part of Operation: GALVANIC. The mission of the 2nd Marine Division was to secure the island in order to control the Japanese airstrip in the Tarawa Atoll; thereby preventing the Japanese Imperial forces from getting closer to the United States, and enabling US forces to get closer to mainland Japan. It would become one of the bloodiest battles in the Corps history.
It was November 22, 1943 (D+2 for the “Battle of Tarawa”), when young Frank - just 29 years old - perished. He was reportedly soon buried in the East Division Cemetery on Betio Island - a temporary location chosen by his fellow Marines, the survivors of the battle, until the Fallen could be recovered and returned to their families.
Having a loved one away from home during the holidays is always trying; however, having a son or husband off fighting in the war left the whole family on edge. The fact that this battle took place just before Thanksgiving meant that most of the families, who had unknowingly earned their Gold Star, would receive their heart-wrenching telegrams on Christmas Eve – some Christmas Day or even New Years Day.
For his service and sacrifice, Frank's widow accepted his awards and decorations, including:
- Purple Heart
- Combat Action Ribbon
- World War II Victory Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation
- Asiatic-Pacific Theater Campaign Medal
- Marine Corp Expeditionary Medal, and
- Gold Star Lapel Button.
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 PFC Athon’s remains were not recovered. On October 3, 1949, a military review board declared Frank “non-recoverable”
On July 27, 2020, the DPAA officially accounted-for PFC Athon, and soonafter his family received "The Call" from the Marine Corps POW/MIA (Repatriation) Section. To identify his remains, DPAA scientists used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
Frank will be returned to his family and laid to rest with full military honors.
November 21, 2020, Saturday
Marine Corps Reserve Private First Class Frank Leroy Athon, Jr is memorialized among the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific's Honolulu Memorial. Although he has now been recovered and identified, PFC Athon's name shall remain permanently inscribed within Court 2 of the "Courts of the Missing". A rosette will be placed next to his name to signify that Frank has finally been found.
DPAA Personnel Profile
Marine Corps POW/MIA Section
American Battle Monuments Commission
DPAA Release No: 20-093 (July 31, 2020 & Sep 8, 2020)
Jennifer Morrison, independent volunteer forensic genealogist
Marcella Ballard Athon
Joseph P Athon
ATHON FRANK LEROY JR
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS • USMC • OHIO
Gravesite Details Frank's rosette signifies he has finally been found.
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