NEW ORLEANS -- Navy Pharmacist Howard Brisbane died fighting 73 years ago in the Battle of Tarawa in World War II. Brisbane's niece and nephews had grown up hearing stories of their uncle capturing a coral reef island during the war, they never thought he'd come home.
"It was just a little speck, but it was important to take, it was one of the first big victories in the Central Pacific," said John Howard Bloemer, Brisbane's nephew who was named after his uncle.
Brisbane served as a naval medic, assigned to help Marines.
"The tide was out, and they had to walk across coral and Uncle Howard as well as many other Marines were just shot before they even made it to the shore," Bloemer said.
From there the family says the military had to quickly bury the dead.
"It's just like in the movies, the guy with the little black hat rang the bell, I was about 3, I guess, and my mother took the telegram and started screaming," said Judy Landry.
For decades his family thought Brisbane was in a battlefield cemetery.
"First of all, I didn't know he was missing. I thought they knew where he was," Landry said.
But a non-profit called History Flight which searches for remains found a new burial site near the battle in 2015.
"35 men were found in this trench grave, and Uncle Howard was one of them," said John Bloemer.
The non-profit tracked down family members on Brisbane's mother's side.
"It was a package, and I just swabbed it on the top of my tongue and the top of the roof of my mouth," he said. It was a match. "He was there to take care of his comrades as they went down you know."
Next Friday Navy Pharmacist Brisbane will return stateside and join some of his comrades at Arlington National Cemetary in Virginia.
"It's very exciting after all these years we never knew what happened exactly, they found the remains and everything came out perfect for us to go," said Bryon Bloemer.
And Brisbane's family will finally get to welcome back their uncle, a hero.
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