GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Marine Pvt. Dale Robert Geddes was welcomed home to Grand Island this week, more than 72 years after his death, as his remains were laid to rest in Grand Island City Cemetery next to his parents.

Geddes died Nov. 20, 1943, during World War II as Americans fought to capture the

Japanese-controlled island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. About 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed, with another 2,000 wounded during the battle, which raged from Nov. 20 to 23, 1943. Geddes died on the first day of the battle.

U.S. soldiers were buried in 43 cemeteries throughout Betio. Those cemeteries were eventually consolidated into a single cemetery. However, Geddes was buried in what eventually became known as the “Lost Cemetery,” which is why it took so long for his remains to be returned to Grand Island. At one time, the U.S. government informed Geddes’ family that recovery of his remains was considered “improbable, if not impossible.”

Still, the family never quite lost hope, as Geddes’ mother, Minnie, requested that a marker for Dale be placed by the graves of she and her husband, William. On Monday, Geddes was buried next to his parents.

The ceremony was observed not only by members of his family but also by numerous Grand Island residents, many of whom were veterans themselves. Geddes was buried with full military honors by Detachment 1, Maintenance Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 451, U.S. Marine Corps.

Before the graveside service, family and friends gathered for visitation at Apfel Funeral Home while a Marine honor guard stood watch.

His remains were carried to the cemetery by a horse-drawn hearse once owned by his family, who operated Fralick-Geddes Co. Undertakers in Grand Island. A number of people stepped out onto their front lawns to pay respects to the procession from the funeral home to the cemetery.

Linda Elliott of Aurora, Colorado, a grandniece of Geddes, said that when Bill Baasch fixed up the horse-drawn hearse, he knew “it needed to be restored to bring Dale home.”

One person who was not present to watch the funeral procession was still able to honor Geddes by putting a sign on the lawn that said, “Welcome Home, Marine Pvt. Geddes.” A number of small American flags also were placed on the lawn, along with a larger American flag flying from a flagpole.

“That was so touching. What a nice welcome home for Dale,” Elliott said.

As the procession drew nearer to the cemetery, more people lined the route to pay their respects. Many stood with hands over their hearts, and many others stood while holding American flags. The Grand Island Fire Department stationed one of its trucks near Stolley Park Road, with the aerial ladder flying a large American flag over the thoroughfare.

Retired Chaplain Col. Richard L. Piontkowski Jr. led the graveside services, reading a number of prayers and Bible verses.

The first prayer included the lines, “Let us give thanks unto God for the land of our birth, for its chartered liberties, for all the wonders of our country’s story."

He also read a requiem prayer that said, in part, “We lived and fought together, thou and we, and sought to keep the flickering torch aglow, that all our loved ones might forever know, the blessed warmth exceeding fire and flame. ... We mark this spot in murmuring requiem, move on to westward, rest, warriors, rest.”

Piontkowski said that a chaplain wrote his own Marine prayer to send Geddes back to Grand Island after his remains had been positively identified:

“Almighty God, father of the fatherless, now take me home. I was what others could and should be. I went where others feared to go and did what others failed to do. I ask nothing from those who gave nothing but gave hope, security and freedom to all.

“I have seen the face of terror, felt the stinging cold of fear and experienced the warm comfort of your home and protection through it all. I have enjoyed the sweet taste of life, comrades, love of country, your guiding hand and word. I have cried, failed, lived and longed. I have lived times others would say were best forgotten. ... I have done my duty and live with grateful pride of what I am, a United States Marine.”

After those in the cemetery joined together in reciting the Lord’s Prayer, an honor guard fired guns in honor of Geddes, followed by the playing of taps. U.S. Marines folded the American flag that had draped Geddes’ coffin and presented it to his oldest surviving niece, Shirley Nelson.

“I think his mother and father are very happy with the way things turned out,” said Elliott, who said she appreciated all of the people who stood along the funeral procession route to the cemetery to honor Geddes, as well as Grand Island residents who could only be present in thought.

At the end of the service, funeral director Derek Apfel offered final words of solace to the Geddes family.

“You folks know that he has been at home forever ... but now he’s home, his body’s home,” he said.