SALEM — A case file, about an inch-thick with a black cover, sits on a table in Marie Galloway’s living room, a grim reminder of her 17-year-old brother’s death during World War II.
Inside are medical examiner, forensic and DNA reports, along with historical accounts of how he died, what happened to his remains, and how they were identified nearly 75 years later.
The family now has answers, but only Marie is alive to get closure. She is the last surviving sibling of Marine Pfc. Lyle E. Charpilloz, whose remains are finally on their way home.
Marie never thought it would happen.
Her brother was killed Nov. 20, 1943, during the infamous Battle of Tarawa. He was buried on that tiny Pacific island, along with 1,000 or so other Marines and sailors who died during the three-day bloodbath. As a result of “bad record keeping, massive reconstruction on the island and poor memories,” nearly half the casualties were never found.
It’s all in the copy of the case file on Marie’s table.
To be honest, she grew up believing her brother was blown up and there wasn’t anything left to find. Now the forensic reports tell her he died of gunshot wounds and that there’s even a metal fragment still lodged in his left collarbone.
Advances in forensic science and scientific technology have made it possible for a team of anthropologists, dental experts and technicians from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to connect once unidentifiable remains to missing service members like Lyle Charpilloz, bringing long-awaited closure to families.
His flag-draped casket is scheduled to arrive Thursday at Portland International Airport aboard a Delta flight from Honolulu, Hawaii, escorted by a Marine Corps officer. Carol Houser, Marie’s daughter and Lyle’s niece, is scheduled to be there for the arrival and accompany Virgil T. Golden Funeral Service, which is handling local arrangements.
Some of Lyle’s remains had been buried for decades with other Tarawa unknowns at the cemetery nicknamed the Punchbowl in Honolulu. Some were recovered on Tarawa in 2014 by History Flight, Inc., which has recovered more than 13,000 bones and fragments worldwide and helped identify more than 100 service members.
A History Flight spokeswoman said the nonprofit played a role in three burials happening this week, including the one for Lyle Charpilloz, who will be interred near family at Belcrest Memorial Park in South Salem.
Extended family members from Oregon, California and Washington are gathering Saturday to attend private church and graveside services in Salem.
Most of them know only bits and pieces about the uncle who lied about his age to enlist in the Marines, was killed during World War II, and whose body was never identified — until now.
Some family members, such as Lyle Taylor of Dallas, have a few photographs and mementos to remember him by. The photos were handed down to Taylor, who was named after his uncle. His father, who died in 2001, was Lyle Charpilloz’s brother and Marie’s twin. The twins’ last name was changed when they were young and their mother remarried.
All Marie, now 87, has to remember of her brother Lyle is a photograph, a set of duplicate military medals awarded posthumously to him, and faded childhood memories.
They grew up on a farm near Silverton, where they raised sheep, and they attended a one-room school-house called Silver Cliff.
Marie was the youngest of eight children, born about 5 minutes after twin brother, Robert. Most of their siblings were grown and on their own before World War II started, including one brother in the Army Air Corps.
Kenneth Charpilloz was a pilot who flew cargo transports during the war. He was in the air, on a supply mission in North Africa, the day his brother died, according to his flight log book.
Marie adored Lyle. He was four years older, but they were close.
“We did a lot of things together,” she said from the living room of her Southeast Salem home.
She still remembers the time they were working on a job for the local power company, making utility poles out of trees from their farm. Lyle would trim the limbs off the trees, and the twins would stack the limbs.
“He cut the end of his finger off one time,” she said with a chuckle, “and we were hunting all over for it.”
She can’t remember if it was his middle or index finger, but she’s pretty sure it was on his left hand, and they eventually did find it.
When Marie talks about Lyle, there’s a reverence in her tone. It sounds as if he was called upon to fill in as the man of the house at a young age. When their father was around, he didn’t treat their mother well.
“Lyle would go to school and then come back to protect my mom,” Marie said. “You looked at him as being a lot older than he was.”
He was just 15 when he joined the Marines.
“Everybody knew he was doing it,” said Marie, who was 11 at the time.
Lyle lied about his age, like a lot of young men back then, and was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
His namesake nephew has a photograph of his platoon, the 111th. While all the young Marines look alike in their uniforms and stern poses, Lyle is believed to be the third one in from the left in the third row from the top.
His personnel records describe him as blond with blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. At the time he enlisted, he was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, weighed 139 pounds, and had a tattoo on his left forearm. Marie said he didn’t have one when he left home.
Lyle likely would have been a seasoned veteran by the time he landed on the beach at Tarawa. His division fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal, the first major offensive and a decisive victory for the U.S. in the Pacific theater. That campaign raged on for six months, from late 1942 to early 1943, and the Americans suffered major casualties.
The Battle of Tarawa was over in a blink of an eye in comparison, lasting just 76 hours, yet it’s still considered one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history.
Tarawa is an atoll in what was then known as the Gilbert Islands, and its strategic location was of great military importance in the Pacific. The 2nd Marine Division was tasked with capturing the airfield on Betio, a small island reported to be less than 2 miles long and a half-mile wide at its widest, and heavily defended by a Japanese force of more than 4,800.
Lyle’s company was among the first assault wave. Marines were delivered to the beach in amphibious tractors, and the landings weren’t always on target. Some of the men were let out far from shore, forced to wade through waist-deep water and over what has been described as razor-sharp coral. Many were cut down by enemy fire.
Lyle was killed sometime on the first day of battle, Nov. 20, 1943. When it was all over, the U.S. military had notched a great victory, but the cost was just as great. Approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and more than 2,000 wounded.
The dead were moved to unit collection points for burial. Both identified and unknown remains were buried in one of six temporary cemeteries on Betio. When the war ended, a military graves registration company returned to conduct recovery operations. In 1949, a military review board declared Lyle’s remains unrecoverable.
Many of the Tarawa remains were disinterred, then buried on the island in what was called the Lone Palm Cemetery while awaiting movement to the U.S. They were disinterred again and after ID efforts failed, buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, also known as the Punchbowl.
The case file on Lyle Charpilloz indicates now that some of his remains were interred in the Punchbowl at that time under the label Tarawa Unknown X-5.
In May 2014, History Flight headed for Betio to continue recovery operations, in partnership with the DPAA. More remains were recovered, including from a site where Charpilloz was believed to have been buried, although there is confusion as to whether he was buried in Cemetery 26 or Cemetery 33.
The newly discovered remains were sent to the DPAA lab for analysis.
In October 2016, the DPAA began exhuming 94 sets of unknown Tarawa remains buried at the Punchbowl, including Unknown X-5. Based on recovery context and shared DNA, the remains were consolidated with what was recovered by History Flight.
About a year later, a DNA reference sample arrived from Salem, Oregon.
The mitochondrial DNA collected from a swab of Marie’s cheek matched the mitochondrial DNA sequences of samples taken from the right tibia, right collarbone, right shoulder blade, both upper arm bones, and tooth No. 8 of Tarawa Unknown X-5.
Lyle Charpilloz’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with others killed or lost during World War II. A rosette will be placed next to it to indicate he has been accounted for.
Marie was 13 when the telegrams arrived in 1943, the first one saying her brother had been wounded and the second one saying he had been killed in action.
The family had no funeral or burial for Lyle, no closure, not until now, nearly 75 years later, and for only Marie.