Procession across LA honors WWII vet after archaeologists discover his remains over 70 years later

EAST LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A World War II veteran made his final journey home to Southern California Tuesday after his remains were recently discovered by archaeologists.

U.S. Marine Private Jacob Cruz was 18 years old when he was killed while fighting Japanese forces on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands in 1943. On Tuesday, nearly 80 years after being killed in action, his remains will return to U.S. soil and a procession will be held in Los Angeles.

Over several days of intense battle at Tarawa, more than 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, according to HonoringOurFallen.org. Only about half of the fallen were identified and their remains were returned home to their families.

The others were buried on the island. But in 2019, History Flight archaeologists located multiple remains, and Private Cruz was identified.

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Private Cruz's only surviving sibling, his 88-year-old sister, and relatives were present as other veterans and service members gave him the long overdue welcome home.

AIR7 HD was over the motorcade that traveled from LAX and ended at Guerra Gutierrez Mortuary. Several fire trucks, including one displaying the American flag, lined a bridge above the 710 Freeway along the procession route.

A massive photo of Private Cruz was posted on a billboard at Plaza Mexico along the 105 Freeway in anticipation of the Marine's homecoming.

"You never think you're gonna see this day, and we as a family, we always prayed that my mom would make it and thank God she did," said Cruz's nephew, Mike Mahan-Soto. "When I was a child, my grandmother and I would go to Five Points in Boyle Heights for the memorial ceremonies that they had. She always kept his memory alive in us."

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