Finally

Finally

By: Jim Barber

This article appeared on Facebook
Yesterday, the Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency announced that Sergeant Fred Farris of China Springs, Texas has been accounted for as of 14 April 2020.

Fred was born on 4 August 1924, the first child for nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Gilmore Farris and her husband, also named Fred. Two younger siblings arrived before the decade was out. The Farris family made their home in Hillsboro, Texas for several years before Elizabeth and Fred Senior split up. Elizabeth took Fred Junior, Kenneth, and Betty Jo to China Spring, where she married one John R. Pepper. The Farris children – they kept their original surname – attended grade school in China Spring and high school in nearby Waco.

By the age of seventeen, Fred Junior decided he’d had enough of school – he wanted to join the Marine Corps. Because of his youth, he would have needed parental permission to enlist; when this was granted, he traveled to the Dallas recruiting office, dropped the “Junior” from his name, and signed up on 14 October 1941. He proved to be an exceptional Marine. The attack on Pearl Harbor came just as Private Farris was finishing boot camp in San Diego; he was assigned to Company I, Third Battalion, 2nd Marines and pinned on his first stripe at the end of January 1942. By April, he was a corporal running a fire team of three other Marines. He endured more weeks of training, a long voyage on a crowded troop ship, chaotic combat preparations in New Zealand, and on 8 August 1942 made his first combat landing, a successful amphibious assault against a Japanese garrison on Tanambogo in the Solomon Islands.

Corporal Fred Farris was just a few days past his eighteenth birthday.

Tanambogo was only one small, early part of the Guadalcanal campaign; Item Company would see more heavy combat in the months to come. Farris continued his record of excellent service and was rewarded with another promotion on 1 October 1942. He was likely one of the youngest sergeants in his regiment, if not the entire Marine force on Guadalcanal. Farris beat the odds in the Solomon Islands; while he lost weight (at five feet, ten inches and 139 pounds, he did not have much to lose) and friends (nineteen Item Company Marines lost their lives in action), he made it through without any serious injury or mishap. The sergeant and his surviving comrades left the Solomons at the end of January 1943 for a long and well-deserved spell of rest, recreation, and re-training in New Zealand.

Fred Farris would not be so fortunate in his next battle. On 20 November 1943, the Third Battalion, 2nd Marines spearheaded the assault on Tarawa’s Red Beach One – a fight that gave them their lasting nickname of “the Betio Bastards.” Item Company was theoretically in a reserve wave, but the two lead companies were so badly mauled that it hardly mattered. Casualties in the battalion reached nearly fifty percent in the first few hours of the battle, and many Marines were pinned behind the questionable safety of a low sea wall.

Sergeant Farris managed to get ashore in one piece and spotted a large Japanese pillbox that was firing down the beach and holding up his company. After positioning his squad to provide covering fire, Farris edged as close as he could to the pillbox aperture. Then, pitching grenades and firing his rifle, he attacked head-on, wiping out the defenders in a furious flurry. Marines poked their heads up, saw the threat was neutralized and started moving forward. Farris, however, had no time to contemplate his deeds. A shell exploded nearby, riddling him with shrapnel. The nineteen-year-old sergeant fell dead on the ground. He would be awarded a posthumous Silver Star Medal for his actions on 20 November 1943.

When the battle ended, burial parties scoured the island for the remains of the dead. One such group collected Fred Farris’ body and brought him to a collection point. Twenty-one Marines – including thirteen from I/3/2 – were buried in this location, which the Marines designated as “Cemetery B.” Sergeant Farris was the first one laid to rest – importantly, he was identified at the time of his burial. Individual grave markers at “Cemetery B” were destroyed in the months that followed the battle; a large memorial cross inscribed with the names was installed in its place. The Navy re-designated the site as “Cemetery #10.”

In 1946, a team from the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company dug up the cross (which, confusingly, they called Cemetery 18) and found the remains of nineteen men, many of them carrying live grenades and ammunition. Most of the dead were quickly identified by dog tags or personal effects; dental technicians were able to confirm several others by comparing tooth charts. When the investigations ended in 1949, only five Marines remained unaccounted for. Among them was nineteen-year-old Sergeant Fred Farris.

Unidentifiable remains from this cemetery were given formal burials in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in 1949. In recent years, these graves have been exhumed once again, and the remains tested using modern identification methods. One set, recovered from Betio seven decades ago and nameless ever since, turned out to be Fred Farris. He was officially identified on 14 April 2020, and is finally considered accounted for.

Welcome home, Sergeant Farris. Semper Fi.

Sgt Grit wants to hear from you! Leave your comments below or submit your own story!

15 comments


  • Walt “Kelly” Augustyniak S/Sgt 1941 – 1945

    Great to learn that long lost Marines are still finding their way back home from the Pacific War. Welcome home Sarge.
    I also was a 17 yr old who enlisted in 1941, serving in Marine Corps Aviation, and spent 17 months in the South Pacific in support of the Tarawa invasion. I got to visit Betio 8 weeks after the invasion. The island had been cleaned up but battle scars remained. The waters off Red Beach area still had dozens of sunken Amtraks and Higgins boats bobbing about – a very moving site.


  • Paul V. Schwimmer

    Many of the Marines, repatriated from the Punch Bowl, were identified by additional remains recently recovered on Betio Island – Tarawa- by the non-profit History Flight organization. While we were working in misplaced and forgotten burial trenches of Cemetery 33 (2015 to present), our teams were under the impression that the 1946 Graves Registration groups would recover whatever could be captured in the removal of the poncho clad remains. Parts outside the ponchos were left in place and we have been recovering these missing “pieces” ever since. We also understood that the recovered remains were treated in formaldehyde prior to their removal to the Punch Bowl (which effectively killed all chances of recovering viable DNA). Two of us from History Flight were honored to be part of the recent repatriation ceremony in Hawaii (our organization has been responsible for the vast majority of the recoveries on Tarawa).We took part in the ceremony of installing metal rosettes next to the names of the U.S. Marine MIA’s not longer missing. I clearly remember being on a tour of the DPAA (Department of POW/MIA’s Accounting Agency) identification labs, later that day, and watching technicians carefully attempting to match the viable, DNA loaded, bone fragments we have recovered to the exhumed remains from the Punch Bowl.
    I was in the Cemetery 27 trench when we recovered Medal of Honor Lt. Alexander Bonnyman. The team’s archeologist’s initial (unconfirmed) identification was instantaneous. I remember her saying “It’s him! It’s Bonny” as I leaned over and saw an unmistakable gold bridge in the lower jaw.
    For more information on what History Flight is doing on Tawawa, and other recovery areas around the world, visit their website.


  • Joshua Santana

    I can’t add what these fine Marines have posit. As a Vietnam veteran I concur how we cherish our brotherhood and honor those past and present who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. I am awed and humble by what they did. Semper Fi Marine and welcome home! Sgt J. Santana


  • Sgt Steve Flattery

    Welcome home Marine.


  • ‘Stoney’ Brook

    The stories of the lost, frustrated or bored 17-year-old -many as high school dropouts – joining the Marines are all-too-common. That age group became the poster child of the Corps, finding purpose, values and a measure of ourselves even when school wasn’t a good fit. I’m sure many of us can relate to this path in Life and how it changed who we were, how we saw ourselves and what we did with our lives.

    The story of Sgt Farris is the story of the Marine Corps, where even people who would be dismissed by civilians as “just a kid” isn’t a teenaged child but a Marine. He rises to the occasion and shows courage, leadership and performs under fire.

    I grew up without much of a ‘home’ but found one in the Corps. What sustained me was knowing I wouldn’t be left behind; that is a root part of our ethos as warriors and Marines.

    God bless you, Sgt Farris, and welcome home. Rest in Peace, brother.


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