Jacob Cruz is a United States Marine private who was killed in action during during the Battle of Tarawa on Betio Island of the Gilbert Islands, (modern day Kiribati). His remains were identified on April 14, 2020 by the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) after being recovered by History Flight, Inc. He was identified by DPAA on the same day as David Milano, who was killed in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950.
Jacob Cruz was born on March 25, 1925 in Nogales, Arizona. He joined the United States Marine Corps and was a member of Company D, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division from Los Angeles, California. His Marine Corps Service Number (MCSN) was 516933.
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, Cruz's platoon began to run out of ammunition during fierce enemy counterattack. So, Cruz worked tirelessly to procure ammunition from distributing pints in the rear. He continued to carry out his perilous task with utter disregard for his own personal safety until he was killed in action.
The day after Cruz 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, Cruz was awarded the following medals: the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation, the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Campaign Medal, the Marine Corp Expeditionary Medal, and the Gold Star Lapel Button.
After the battle, Cruz's remains were buried in Row D of Cemetery 33 on Betio Island. However, his remains were not recovered 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 Row 2.
On March 2019, History Flight Inc. discovered the burial of the men in Row D, Cemetery 33 on Betio Island. The remains of the U.S. Marines found were repatriated by DPAA, returned to the Hawaii laboratory in 2019 and identified based on historical records, circumstances, dental analysis, and DNA evidence. Using these techniques, Jacob Cruz's remains were identified on April 14, 2020. His family was notified of the identification.
Cruz was buried in Los Angeles National Cemetery, Los Angeles, California with full military honors and his funeral service was conducted on March 25, 2021.