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Royal Lawrence Waltz 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 1946-1947 and identified on May 15, 2019.

Background

Royal Waltz was born on February 8, 1923 in Hanford, California to Royal Leander and Maude Parrish Waltz. He had two siblings, Martha and Freeland, who were already teenagers when he was born. The family lived on their dairy farm in rural King County, California. According to the 1940 census, he attended high school for one year; this was probably all he completed before enlisting in the United States Marine Corps on August 13, 1941.

After completing boot camp in late October of 1941, Waltz was assigned to Company A of the Second Engineer Battalion, which was then constructing Camp Catlin on Oahu Island, Hawaii. In April of 1942, the battalion shipped back to United States mainland to join the 2nd Marine Division. The following month, Company A and its members were attached to combat regiments for overseas deployment, with Royal joining the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Marines. With the 3rd Battalion, he participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal as a carpenter.

In September of 1942, Company A reformed, and served the rest of the Battle of Guadalcanal as and organic unit. When the Marines Guadalcanal rejoined the rest of their battalion in New Zealand in the spring of 1943, they became Company A, First Battalion, 18th Marines, which was the engineer unit of the 2nd Marine Division. The next several months were spent in training new men and preparing for subsequent combat operations. At one point, Waltz suffered a lacerated leg, but healed and was promoted to Private First Class.

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.

The 18th Marines were attached to assault companies and assigned to destroy bunkers, pillboxes, and other fortifications that threatened the riflemen. Waltz was once again attached to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. On the first day of the battle, he landed on the beach designated as "Red Beach One" but was shot his first few minutes ashore. His fellow corpsmen dragged him to the slight protection of a sea wall and bandaged his wounds. The unit moved on, leaving Waltz behind.

On November 23, 1943, US 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 the end of the battle, it was presumed Waltz was evacuated to a hospital ship for additional treatment for his wounds. His records were even forwarded to the casual battalion of the V Amphibious Corps, with the notation that he was sick in the hospital. It was not until April of 1944 that it was realized that he was not in a hospital, much more he was not seen since being wounded on the beach.

Aftermath

On November 21, 1944, Waltz was declared killed in action, body not recovered. After his presumed death, he was awarded the Purple Heart. Additionally, he was memorialized in Court 4 of the Courts of Missing at the Honolulu Memorial in Honolulu and has a memorial marker at Grangeville Cemetery in Armona, California.

Between 1946 and 1947, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio Island. All of the remains they found were sent to the Schofield Barracks Central Identification Laboratory in Wahiawa, Hawaii for identification. By 1949, any remains that had not been identified were interred as unknowns in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, Hawaii. One of the sets of unidentified remains was Tarawa Unknown X-228.

Identification

On March 27, 2017, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency disinterred Tarawa Unknown X-228 from the Punchbowl for identification. DPAA scientists and scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used anthropological analysis, material evidence, and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis. Using these techniques, Tarawa Unknown X-228 was identified as Royal Lawrence Waltz on May 15, 2019. His identification was announced on February 4, 2020 and again on July 29, 2021. He will be buried in Armona, presumably at Grangeville Cemetery, at a later date.

Sources

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