He died in battle on a tiny Pacific island nearly 75 years ago.
At long last, Marine Pfc. Sam Kourkos is coming home to Kansas. Kourkos was just 20 when he was killed in action on the island of Betio in the Battle of Tarawa on Nov. 21, 1943.
His remains, which were identified through circumstantial evidence and dental records, are scheduled to arrive in Kansas City on Friday. A funeral procession will then carry Kourkos to Independence, where he will be laid to rest near his parents at Mount Hope Cemetery on Saturday.
Years ago, the family had placed a memorial for the boy they called Sammy near his parents’ graves. The Patriot Guard will participate in Saturday’s service, and at least one community along the funeral procession’s route — Osawatomie — plans to honor Kourkos as his remains pass through town on the way to Independence.
Kourkos was one of about 1,000 Marines and sailors who were killed in the Battle of Tarawa, which was the first step on the U.S. march toward the conquest of Japan. The dead were initially buried in several battlefield cemeteries around the island, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Advancements in forensic technology led the agency in October 2016 to exhume unknown remains associated with Tarawa and send them to its laboratory for analysis.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, nearly 73,000 are still unaccounted for, according to the DPAA.