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Utah WWII soldier’s remains buried with family 76 years later

SHARE Utah WWII soldier’s remains buried with family 76 years later

Mila Suarez, Siena Suarez and Charlotte Hatch watch as the American flag is folded over the casket for their great-great uncle, World War II soldier Robert James Hatch, during burial at the Bountiful City Cemetery in Bountiful on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. Hatch’s remains were identified recently and he was buried with military honors.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

BOUNTIFUL — Seventy-six years ago, a mother lost two of her three sons in World War II.

“I have been anxiously awaiting for some word of my boy,” the mother later wrote to military officials asking them to find her middle son, Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Robert James Hatch, before his body was declared “nonrecoverable” in Japan.

A part of that letter was read Saturday after the fallen soldier was finally returned to Bountiful to rest alongside his family.

While Hatch’s mother died without being reunited with her son, “we can celebrate in equal measure today the joy in returning Jim” to his mother’s side, said Tom Hatch, one of Jim Hatch’s nephews.

About 100 family members and supporters gathered in the biting cold at the Bountiful City Cemetery as Hatch, 21, was buried with full military honors. Also at the burial were members of the family of Helen Flint, the young woman Jim Hatch had been engaged to before his death.

The atmosphere felt both somber and peaceful as gunshots and the sound of trumpets rang out. American flags lined the path traveled by the hearse.

Hatch, of Woods Cross, was identified Sept. 23 by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is operated by the Department of Defense.

Hatch landed with his regiment on a small island in Japan on a mission to secure the island. About 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed, and twice as many were wounded. The Japanese soldiers were “virtually annihilated.” Hatch died on the third day of battle, according to the Department of Defense, and was buried in the area.

Three soldiers in his company witnessed him being killed and visited his family after the war, Tom Hatch said. A soldier whose letter was part of Hatch’s military record described seeing the death. The next day the soldier and a sergeant buried Jim and four others in a common grave where they had been killed, the nephew said.

While the U.S. later tried to gather Hatch’s and others’ remains in the area, they found grave markers but not the remains.

But in 2014, the nonprofit History Flight discovered a site where multiple sets of remains from the battle were recovered and turned over to the military accounting agency.

Scientists at the agency used dental, anthropological and physical evidence to identify Hatch.

Spurred by the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jim Hatch had signed up to serve with his older brother, Alvin. But Alvin, Tom Hatch’s dad, suffered severe hearing loss and received a medical discharge.

Their younger brother, Gene, also went on to serve and died in the Battle of Guam, eight months after his older brother.

“And so my grandmother struggled with having lost two of her sons, and was a Gold Star mother twice over,” Tom Hatch explained.

Though the war was too difficult to discuss, Alvin Hatch would talk about growing up with Jim.

“And as you can imagine, growing up on a farm in Woods Cross, they did chores together, they worked together. They were best friends,” Tom Hatch recalled.

While Tom Hatch grew up hearing little about his uncles’ military service, photos of Jim and Gene sat on the fireplace in his parents’ house, along with the service medals they received in the war.

“So it was a constant reminder to us that they had served well, and that they were in mind of my parents, my father in particular,” Hatch said.

“What we’re most pleased about is that he is coming home.”

The military offered to bury the fallen hero’s remains in Arlington Cemetery, “which would have been a great honor. But we felt it most appropriate to come home to Bountiful,” he said.