Freedom comes at a high cost. Most often it is paid for by young men, including 18-year-old Marine Private Jacob Cruz from Los Angeles, Calif. On Nov. 22, 1943, on the third day in the fight for Betio island in the atoll of Tarawa, Pvt. Cruz, a machine gunner, was killed.
This Memorial Day, we must remember and honor our nation’s war dead—this day is not about hot dogs or even thanking a veteran—the latter should be done every day. No, this day is about honoring and remembering those who gave “the last full measure.”
Today, I’d like you to remember a young private in D Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. Although killed in 1943, it wasn’t until April 2020 that his repatriated remains—thanks to History Flight—were positively identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
Unlike many Marines and soldiers killed in action on far flung battlefields, we know something Pvt. Cruz’s last moments. They are found in his posthumous citation for the Silver Star.
“Commander in Chief, Pacific: Serial 919 (March 24, 1944)
“The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Private Jacob Cruz (MCSN: 516933), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving with a machine gun platoon attached to the First Battalion, Sixth Marines, SECOND Marine Division in combat against enemy Japanese forces on Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands on the night of November 22, 1943.
When his platoon was in desperate need of ammunition during fierce enemy counter attacks, Private Cruz worked tirelessly procuring it from distributing points in the rear. Exposed at all times to hostile fire, he continued to carry out his perilous task with utter disregard for his own personal safety until he was killed by the enemy.
Private Cruz's heroic devotion to duty was a vital factor in the success of our forces in repelling the Japanese and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
The grave of Pvt. Cruz, reportedly in Row D of Cemetery 33 on the island, was lost for most of the 20th century—stretching into the 21st. His remains were discovered by History Flight archeologists in 2019. The work of this organization, which you can read about here, has resulted in fallen Marines returning home—including Medal of Honor recipient 1st Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Jr.—to be honored as they should by a grateful nation.
Another of Pvt. Cruz’s comrades killed on Nov. 22, 1943, on Tarawa—and repatriated thanks to History Flight—PFC Harold Hayden, from A Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, was also identified this year. Once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, his nephew, a serving U.S. Marine, will escort him to his final resting place, which will be Arlington National Cemetary.
On this Memorial Day, marked by masks and social distancing, I ask you to remember those who gave their lives in all our nation’s wars and to know the stories of men such as Sandy Bonnyman, Day Turner, Thomas Hall and Bradford Turner. Remember and honor all of our sacred dead, and amongst them remember Jacob Cruz and Harold Hayden.