MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, California ― Pauline Stewart was 13 years old and sitting in class, when a teacher stated that a "military man" wanted to speak to her. This is how the now-82-year-old remembers the day when she received the news about her brother's death, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Millard Odom.
In November 1943, Odom was a member of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 1st Marine Division, and landed at Tarawa, a part of the Gilbert Islands. The Battle of Tarawa lasted approximately 72 hours, killing roughly 1,000 Marines and sailors and wounding more than 2,000.
Odom was born on Aug. 21, 1917, in Batesville, Arkansas, and died at the age of 26. Odom was identified on Aug. 20, 2018, and was killed on the first day of the battle on Nov. 20, 1943, during World War II.
After retrieving his remains, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recovered DNA samples on Aug. 2, 2018, and Odom's DNA was a match with his sister and his niece. To further confirm his identity, they tested 25 of his teeth, finding out he had early signs of scoliosis.
The family grieved in silence, holding their breath as they took it all in. The skeletal remains, DNA samples and finding out he had scoliosis (because it runs in the family) made it clear to his family and the DPAA that it was Sgt. Odom.
It was initially reported at Tarawa that Odom was killed by a gunshot wound to the neck, but after further investigation, it was determined that he was in fact killed by a ballistic injury possibly caused by explosives.
U.S. service members who died in Tarawa were later buried in cemeteries on the island. Odom was thought to be buried in Cemetery 33, but the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company who conducted remains recovery operations on Betio, Kiribati, between 1946 and 1947 stated Odom's remains were not identified. The unidentified remains found on Tarawa were sent to the Schofield Barracks Central Identification Laboratory, Honolulu, for identification in 1947. By 1949, the remains that had still not been identified were interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
On Feb. 27, 2017, DPAA dug up Tarawa Unknown X-273 from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and sent the remains to the laboratory. Scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces medical examiner identified Odom's remains.
Odom's name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Punchbowl in Honolulu, along with the others killed and lost in WWII.
Stewart's spirit was lifted, knowing that her brother had finally been identified, and she experienced closure almost 70 years after first learning of her brother's ultimate sacrifice to his country. Sgt. Odom will be fittingly buried later this year. Stewart said, "I'm not going to die yet, not until I see my brother again."
The DPAA continues to strive to fulfill our nation's obligation in accounting for missing personnel around the world, and provides timely and accurate information to their families. More than 400,000 service members died during WWII and roughly 72,000 service members are still unaccounted for, but not forgotten.
Want to Know More About the Military?
Be sure to get the latest news about the U.S. military, as well as critical info about how to join and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to Military.com and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.