The family of a Marine mistakenly identified after being killed in World War II nearly eight decades ago welcomed his body home Wednesday so that he could be correctly buried alongside his relatives in a Lebanon cemetery.
The remains of Capt. Edward Glenn Walker arrived at Nashville International Airport on an American Airlines flight Wednesday and were transported to Ligon & Bobo funeral home in Lebanon after more than 75 years after his death.
Walker, who served as the commanding officer of Easy Company, 2nd Marines, died in combat Nov. 20, 1943, on Betio Island during the Battle of Tarawa.
His remains were wrongfully buried three times, including twice on the South Pacific island, about 6,750 miles from Lebanon.
Several members of his family and other veterans and military members met the plane at the airport. Walker’s remains were accompanied by a Marine of the same rank and received a law enforcement and motorcade escort to Lebanon.
Mt. Juliet first responders lined up on the Beckwith Road bridge over Interstate 40 and displayed an American flag and flashing lights in honor of Walker. Lebanon first responders mirrored the gestures at the South Hartmann Drive overpass in Lebanon.
Walker’s nephew Lane Martin said the support displayed Wednesday cause him and the family to become emotional at times.
“It just hit you like a wave with the emotions of it. It was the same thing when they began to take my uncle off the plane and seeing his casket for the first time. That was really something to see,” Martin said.
Nearly 100 motorcyclists, mainly composed of military veterans, escorted Walker’s body and family from the airport to Lebanon.
“The least we could do is come out and show our respects and do what we can to help the family,” said Terry Fuqua, one of the motorcyclists in the escort. “When we were in the military, we took an oath, and that oath never expires. That’s the honor we have for past service, present service or whatever you served. We’re there to honor that oath. It’s just an honor for us to be able to come and do this and show our respect.”
Martin said the burial mix-up occurred after the battle was over and more than 1,000 Marines and 5,000 Japanese soldiers were dead.
“They left the chaplains and Seabees to bury the dead. You’re talking about the hot tropics, and they buried them as quickly as they could. Apparently in rebuilding the airport they dug up some bodies and moved them and reburied them — not just my uncle but a thousand men. So, you can see how somebody could get lost in the shuffle,” he said.
In 1946, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company began recovery of the dead in Tarawa and mistakenly identified Walker’s body after it found his dog tags.
“He was disinterred in 2017, and they began doing identifications and were able to associate the remains with Capt. Walker in 2018. They confirmed this and ID’ed him in 2019. That’s when they began to try and find us,” Martin said.
Walker received a second Purple Heart, posthumously. He received his first after being wounded in combat in 1942. Because he was killed in action, this medal bears a gold star.
The remains of the man in Walker’s grave have yet to be identified.
“We’re obviously very proud. We’ve always known the story of Edward Glenn Walker and so it’s really neat to be able to now share that story more widely and to understand what a wonderful man and the sacrifice that he made and share it with the community,” said Jill Waggoner, who is Martin’s daughter. “Our family loves this community, and it’s also been really fun to experience the way that so many people in Lebanon and Wilson County have partnered with us to make this weekend happen.”
Martin and Waggoner said Walker’s family loved him while he was alive and strived to keep his memory alive after his death.
“We’re sad that his mom and his siblings aren’t here because they loved him and wanted him home,” said Waggoner, who said the family feels like it has accomplished their elders’ wishes.
“I think about my grandmother and my mother, and how much it impacted them when he died, and they would continue to talk about him,” Martin said.
“It’s certainly a wonderful, powerful thing to get my uncle home, but it’s also brought our family closer together.”
Martin said he anticipates about 100 cousins to be present at Walker’s burial Saturday.
“The cost of freedom is high,” he said. “My uncle was killed. He gave his life, but I also saw that cost toward my grandmother and mother (in) how they grieved over the years about losing their brother and son. It gives me so much better appreciation for the men that have served our country so that we could be free.”
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. July 24 at Fairview Church in Lebanon and will be followed by a graveside service with full military honors. Both are open to the public.
Wilson Post writer Ken Beck contributed to this report.