CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – John Taylor Burke was just 17 when he signed up to fight as a Marine in World War II.
The North Carolina native was fighting in the Battle of Tarawa in the South Pacific when he was killed in action in 1946.
But with no dog tags or identification, Burke was buried on the other side of the world as an “unknown” and his family was left without closure.
“He left North Carolina 76 years ago, over 76 years ago actually and this will be the first time,” Burke’s niece Jill Henderson said.
In 2017, Burke’s body was exhumed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. It took nearly two years for his DNA to be analyzed and on Memorial Day, Henderson got a call about her “Uncle Jack.”
“She said, I’m calling to give you the best Memorial Day present ever. And I knew what she was calling about and I started to cry then,” Henderson said.
Thursday afternoon, Burke’s family members, who never met him but grew up hearing his story, gathered on the tarmac of Charlotte-Douglass International Airport as he returned home.
The American Airlines plane pulled into the gate to a water cannon salute. And as Henderson and her family waited, Marines unloaded a flag-draped coffin.
“This was a young man who signed up for World War II at 17 years old and now we’re bringing him back home 76 years later. It brings closure to the nation, it brings closure to that family. He’s a hero, he’s apart of that Greatest Generation,” USO North Carolina President, Jim Whaley, said.
Saturday, Burke was buried with full military honors in Hickory, North Carolina, not far from his hometown.
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