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April 4, 2023

DPAA conducts a Repatriation Ceremony in the Solomon Islands

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conducted the first land-based recovery mission post COVID-19 pandemic in Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands February 15- March 28.

Under the direction of a scientific recovery expert, DPAA conducted recovery operations for approximately 45 days.  

During this recovery, they found both potential osseous material and life support evidence to assist in identifying these lost Americans.

On March 30, U.S. Embassy Honiara Chargé d’Affaires Russell Comeau led a repatriation ceremony with U.S. service members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency at the American Memorial on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. The ceremony was held to repatriate possible remains found during a recent recovery mission to the Solomon Islands, which will then be taken to DPAA facilities for possible identification in an ongoing effort to account for U.S. service members still missing from Pacific Theater during World War II.

The success of this mission could not have happened without the support of Solomon Islands government officials, Solomon Islands Museum personnel, Solomon Islands Department of Health, and Royal Solomon Island Police Force who enabled the United States to recover these missing service members. 

Remarks by U.S. Embassy Honiara Chargé d'Affaires Russell Comeau

Good morning esteemed representatives of the government of Solomon Islands, distinguished members of the diplomatic corps and international organizations, brothers and sisters in uniform, Sir Bruce and Lady Keithie – the caretakers of our WWII memorial, guests, visitors, descendants, representatives of the media, and the people of Solomon Islands…

For the past several weeks, the people of Gilbert Camp welcomed and supported our visiting team from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency along with colleagues from the National Museum as they continued in their excavation of a site where it is believed the remains of five U.S. Marines were buried nearly 80 years ago during the Battle of Guadalcanal. This was not the first excavation of the site, but a necessary follow-up expedition – one that aimed to find and recover the last possible remains of our fallen there.

In the shadow of where Solomon Islanders built their homes, lived their lives, and where their children played, unbeknownst to many in Gilbert Camp, our boys rested for nearly eight decades. Having visited the location, I can understand why our surviving Marines at the time chose it as a hastily built internment site for their fallen brothers in arms. Even in the fog of war and at the end of pitched battles, as our Marines prepared to move on to their next critical engagement, they sought out a beautiful hilltop, with sweeping views of the lush landscape and countryside, a place fitting to guard and keep these five brave men until they could be brought home to their native soil and families.

What I also saw at the site was a team of Solomon Islanders and Americans working together to honor the legacy of our fallen soldiers. Together, two nations methodically dug into the jagged terrain, under the heat of the day to recover the remains of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It was not easy work, often times it was back breaking and exhausting, but no one complained because each knew the sacred duty they were undertaking in fulfilling a long-standing promise to our fallen – that ALL will be brought home – no matter where they rest, no matter how much time passes – they are not forgotten.

The United States and our allies did not seek war, but we refused to shrink from it. We did not want to send our sons and daughters off to fight on foreign soil. And I know that Solomon Islanders suffered and died in great numbers as well – the war was not one that you invited either, but it was one that was fought on your shores.

I want to assure you that the war was fought to ensure a lasting peace. A peace that allowed nations to choose their own future, their own leadership, and their own destiny. The post-war peace forged societies where people are free to speak their minds, worship as they choose, where governments are transparent and accountable to their people, where everyone plays by the same rules and where disputes are resolved peacefully.

The conflict brought peace and democracy to millions of people around the world, including Solomon Islands. And now across the Pacific we see tangible partnerships, where even former combatants, former enemies, have become the staunchest of allies and the truest of friends.

Today we honor the memories of those who died and were injured—both during the war itself, and in the years that followed – and we demonstrate our commitment to the enduring friendship with the people of Solomon Islands. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, with the support of the people of Solomon Islands, are honoring the past as well as forging a stronger relationship between our two countries.

Sadly, the remnants of this war still litter this country in the form of unexploded ordnance (UXO). This terrible legacy of the past holds the future hostage in far too many ways. Decades after hostilities ceased, this invisible hazard continues to injure and claim lives here in Solomon Islands. The United States’ work, along with our partners and allies, over the past decade to remediate explosive hazards is foundational for a prosperous Solomon Islands. But much work remains in scrubbing the land of this terrible legacy of WWII. And I want to reiterate, that this is work my government is committed to undertaking as we all seek to reduce this persistent threat.

I want to express my sincere thanks to the Solomon Islands National Museum, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services, along with the RSIPF for their commitment to this humanitarian effort, successfully recovering material that will be sent back to the DPAA laboratory in Hawaii for further testing and identification.

To our colleagues on the U.S. Team, led by Captain Jonathan Hootnick, your service and commitment in returning our unaccounted-for service members to their loved ones is inspiring. You have much to be proud of, and we are proud of you. We are appreciate and acknowledge the time you have been apart from your own families as you strive to bring closure and peace to the families of the fallen.

To our Government of Solomon Islands colleagues and the citizens of Solomon Islands – we are grateful for your support to the families of the missing service members. This mission continues to best represent the spirit of our long-standing humanitarian cooperation and the bonds of friendship between us.

Thank you all for joining us here today to honor our service members, and for consistently demonstrating your dedication to our common goal of bringing an honorable conclusion to this mission.