A funeral will be held Monday for a Louisville Marine killed during World War II.
Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. John R. Bayens was killed on Nov. 22, 1943, while battling Japanese forces on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. Bayens was 20.
His remains were reportedly buried in Cemetery 33 on Betio Island. In 2014, History Flight, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to recovering deceased service members, identified Cemetery 33, and through excavation uncovered multiple sets of remains. According to a news release, the remains were then turned over to Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) which identified Bayens’ remains using “dental, anthropological, and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as material evidence.”
Growing up, Fran Mitchum heard good things about her uncle, John Bayens. Her family submitted DNA samples that helped DPAA officials identify Bayens’ remains. She said they got the call in September that Bayens had been positively identified. “We were just so excited as a family,” said 67-year-old Mitchum. “It’s taken a while, 76 years, but my siblings and I get to lay him to rest. It’s a pretty glorious feeling.”
Officers from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will escort Bayens’ body, and Marines from Fort Knox will honor Bayens during his burial. Marine Sergeant Edward Hall, who’s stationed in Fort Knox, said this kind of event is rare because it is hard to find such graves.
“Whenever these mass graves were done in the past, during World War II for instance, they were done so quickly and the records were not the greatest back then, that they were mismarked,” Hall said. “[This ceremony is] important, on multiple levels, to show the community that we still honor all of our veterans, no matter when they were killed in action.”
Mitchum would agree. She said she wanted Bayen’s funeral open to the public in order to honor those who have fought, and to give military members a chance to welcome Bayens home. Now Mitchum hopes other families can share the experience.
“Hopefully, through this, other families will be able to feel the joy that we have and have that completion of a story,” Mitchum said. “And that eventually if we could bring them all home from wherever they are — the POWs and MIAs — bring them home to be buried on the land that they fought to keep free.”
Bayens’ public visitation starts at 10 a.m. Monday at Owen Funeral Home in Louisville. The grave-side service for Bayens starts at 1:30 p.m. at Evergren Cemetery in Louisville. He will be buried 15 feet away from his parents’ grave.