Howard Elmer Miller was a United States Marine who was killed in action during during the Battle of Tarawa on Betio Island of the Gilbert Islands, now part of Kiribati. His remains were located in March of 2019 and identified on April 20, 2020.
Howard Miller was born on May 6, 1921 in Grand Rapids, Michigan to Walter and Josephine Miller. He spent much of is in Chicago, Illinois with his siblings, Wally and Charmaine. The family relocated to San Mateo County in the mid-1930s Walter, a traveling silk salesman, was made western manager for the Belden-Hemingway importers. There, Miller attended San Mateo High School. He excelled at football both in high school and at San Mateo Junior College, and was reportedly "a highly popular member of the local younger set" in San Mateo and Burlingame.
After graduating, Miller briefly worked in silk sales with his father and Bethlehem Steel in San Francisco, California. On August 31, 1942, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, his service number being 436092. He went to San Diego, California for boot camp training. In October, he requested and received a four-day furlough to travel back to San Mateo where he married Elizabeth "Betty" Jane Bettinger at Saint Matthews Catholic Church on October 24, 1942. After a short honeymoon, Miller returned to base.
Miller, now a Private, Trained with the heavy howitzers of the 12th Marines, the artillery regiment of the 3rd Marine Division at Camp Dunlap but switched specialties and attended tank school at Camp Elliott in January 1943. Learning to operate and maintain a tank took several more months, so Betty moved down to San Diego. When Miller shipped out in June, she went back home to San Mateo, anxiously awaiting news. At camp of the 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Miller worked with tanks for only six weeks. Then for reasons unclear, at the end of August 1943, he transferred to rifle company Company A, First Battalion, 6th Marines.
In a letter that arrived shortly before his first wedding anniversary, he wrote he was okay and referenced the date of November 5, 1943. What the date meant isn't clear, as the meaning was removed by the censor.
Battle of Tarawa
The 2nd Marine Division landed on Betio Island on November 20, 1943 as part of Operation Galvanic, the U.S. Invasion of the Gilbert Islands. The mission was to take control of the airfield on the Tarawa Atoll so that Japanese Imperial Army would be less close to the United States and the United States would be closer to Japan. Most of the fighting would occur on Betio Island as it was the largest of the islands on Tarawa Atoll. This battle would prove critical for the American offensive and the first time they faced serious Japanese opposition as they were well-supplied and prepared and fought to the last man standing.
On the night of November 22, 1943, the third day of the battle, Miller was killed by gunshot wounds to the head.
The day after Miller was killed in action, U.S. Forces would take over the island. Overall, 1,696 U.S. Marines were killed and 2,101 were wounded and 4,690 Imperial Japanese Army soldiers and construction laborers were killed and 146 were captured.
After his death, Miller was awarded the Purple Heart.
Miller's remains were recovered and buried in Row D of Cemetery 33 on Betio Island. However, they were not recovered and identified when the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations between 1946 and 1947. In 1949, a military review board declared him non-recoverable.
His name is inscribed within the Courts of Missing at the Honolulu Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii in Court 4.
On March 2019, History Flight Inc. discovered what is thought of as Cemetery 33 on Betio Island. The remains of U.S. Marines found were sent to a DPAA laboratory and identified based on historical records, circumstances, dental analysis, and DNA evidence. Using these techniques, Howard Elmer Miller's remains were identified on April 20, 2020. He was buried on November 6, 2020 in his hometown.