Pfc. John Saini was killed in World War II. 73 years later, his remains were returned home.
“It’s a relief to finally have my uncle home,” said his nephew, who is also named John Saini. Seventeen members of the Saini family were present at a ceremony at the San Francisco International Airport. “This is a day my grandparents wanted but never lived to see.”
Pfc. Saini was a 20-year-old soldier in the US Marines. He stormed the Tarawa Atoll in November 1943. A thousand U.S. troops, including Saini, were killed trying to force the Japanese out of the islands about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. When the battle was over, the military was unable to locate Saini’s grave.
Last year, a team from History Flight, a Florida charity that searches for the graves of U.S. soldiers, heard a bark from their Labrador Retriever named Buster. He had located the resting place of four dozen servicemen near the lagoon where the worst of the fighting took place. Military investigators were able to confirm that one of them was Saini.
The body was flown from Hawaii to San Francisco where the family was reunited in a brief ceremony. None of the attending family members had ever met Saini, but they were all familiar with his story. Saini’s parents never seemed the same after receiving the telegram that said their son was presumed dead.
“This is stirring emotions that I can’t even describe,” said Saini’s niece, Liz McDowell. “There wasn’t a lot said about this in our family. But we felt it.” Saini’s remains were buried in Oak Mound Cemetery next to those of his parents.
Mark Noah, founder of History Flight, said that the group strives to “give the identity and the dignity back” to the families. They have identified the remains of 100 soldiers in Europe and Asia over the last 13 years. “Every time you do it, it’s like putting a little piece of America back in America,” Noah said.