During the morning hours of November 20, 1943, United States Naval ships approached Betio Island on the Tarawa Atoll. Betio was a stronghold for the Japanese, and gaining control of its airstrip could prove to be strategically valuable to the American advancement through the pacific islands. Following three hours of early morning bombing and cover fire from US Naval aircraft and destroyers, American soldiers prepared to make an amphibious assault on the island. This assault would be the start of a WWII battle that would last 76 hours and claim the lives of over a thousand U.S. Marines.
Fred Evert Freet was born in Gary, Indiana on June 28, 1925. He was the second of three sons born to Carl Edward and Lucy Bell Freet. Fred was a descendant of the Native American Miami Tribe of Indiana, and had spent his life in the Gary, Marion, and Columbus Indiana areas. He was raised in a devout Catholic family. He enjoyed fishing, hunting and spending time with his brothers. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many young men were called-on to serve their country… Fred and his brothers were ready to answer that call.
Fred had enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve on September 11, 1942. Fred’s older brother, Ray, enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a paratrooper and his younger brother, William Edward, enlisted in the Navy. These three young men, brothers and friends from childhood, were spread throughout three branches of the U.S. military, willing and prepared to serve in our country’s second World War.
Fred had finished his basic training in California, and was assigned to the F Company, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines, Second Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force. He was then sent to New Zealand for training specific to a battle planned on Tarawa Atoll, Betio Island.
No amount of training could prepare the Marines for the struggles they would face over the course of the 76-hour battle of Tarawa. The amphibious approach of the island was slowed by a low tide and barrier reefs. As the transport vehicles became stuck, many Marines were forced to wade to land. The Marines that did make it ashore were attacked from heavily fortified Japanese bunkers which had survived the initial Navy bombings.
Evidence suggests that Fred was one of the Marines who made it safely to the beach, but at some point during that first day of battle he was killed in action. At the time of his passing, Fred had left behind his parents and his two brothers. Fred was only 18 years old when he died. He was one of a total of nearly 6,400 casualties on both sides of the Battle of Tarawa before the US was able to take control of the Island and airstrip on November 23, 1943.
Fred’s family was informed of his death, and after the close of WWII, the U.S. Graves Registration Company began the process of locating and recovering remains of the American casualties which had been buried on Betio Island. Fred’s family kept in constant contact with the US military hoping to locate his remains. By 1949 the board of review had recovered several sets of remains, but none matched those of Private Freet. The military had exhausted all options in locating any missing Marines. Fred was then officially declared as killed in action and his remains declared as unrecoverable.
In 2015 a non-profit group called History Flight began routine excavations on areas of Betio Island and discovered sets of human remains in a previously undiscovered cemetery. U.S. Navy Mortuary Affairs conducted extensive investigation and testing on these new findings including dental records, x-ray comparisons and inventorying of personal effects. In a report dated August 6, 2018, the US Navy positively identified one set of these newly discovered remains as being those of Private Fred Evert Freet. Almost 75 years after being killed in action, Fred’s remains were finally found and his family would begin the process of bringing him home.
Although Fred’s parents and brothers had all passed away before this discovery, and cannot be here to celebrate his return, Fred still has family to see him laid to rest. Fred’s half-brother, Roger G. (Dixie) Covey of Arkansas, along with several nieces, nephews and extended family members are awaiting the day in April that Fred’s remains will be flown from Hawaii to Indianapolis and then escorted to Marion for Burial in Marion National Cemetery. Fred’s remaining family is hoping to get in contact with as many extended family members as possible to be sure that they can all bear witness to this monumental occasion.
Fred was posthumously issued the following Awards and Decorations for his service in the USMC Reserve: The Purple Heart Medal for wounds received in action resulting in his death, The Combat Action Ribbon for service during WWII, The Presidential Unit Citation for serving in the 2nd Marine Division on Tarawa, The Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Campaign Star, The WWII Victory Medal and The Rifle Marksman Badge.
Family and friends are encouraged to gather at Needham Storey Wampner Funeral Service, North Chapel, 1341 N. Baldwin Ave., Marion, IN from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM on Thursday, April 18, 2019. At 12:30 PM that Thursday afternoon, there will be a procession of Fred’s casket to Marion National Cemetery for a 1:00 pm committal service including full United States Marine Corps military honors.
The family and everyone blessed to have heard of this story have found great comfort in it. Our history is something that we can so easily lose grasp of, and stories like this are a reminder for us to never forget the sacrifices of those who have given their lives for our freedoms.
Written By; Jason Fafinski – Needham Storey Wampner Funeral Service