OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — On Wednesday at Eppley Airfield, members of the Patriot Guard Riders will escort the remains of an 18-year-old Marine from Nebraska who died during World War II as he continues the journey home — 78 years after his death. The flight is expected to arrive at 2:28 p.m.
The group said:
“PFC John Paul "Jack" Langan, died November 22, 1943 at the age of 18, on the Island of Betio, fighting for his country in World War II.
Our Hero Jack Langan enlisted in the Marine Corps on November 26, 1942; two months shy of his 18th birthday. After training at Camp Pendleton, CA, Jack was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6di Marine Regiment. About noon on November 22, 1943, Jack volunteered to take water to some Marines who were pinned down. As he stood up, he was hit by Japanese machine-gun fire and was killed instantly.”
The Patriot Guard Riders provided the following obituary for Langan:
PFC John Paul "Jack" Langan, died November 22, 1943 on the Island of Betio fighting for his country in World War II. John's remains have been recovered.
John Paul “Jack” Langan was born January 30, 1925, the sixth of eight children to Edward and Mary Langan in Platte Center, NE. Jack’s mother died in 1936 when Jack was just 10. Within two years, Edward Langan moved to Idaho, leaving his children behind. The three oldest, Martha, Arnold, and Harvey, who were 19, 18, and 16 years old when their mother died, kept the family together as best they could.
When Arnold married his wife, Stella, in 1939, they took Jack and his two youngest brothers, Kenny and Don, into their home. Harvey and another older brother, Alvin, headed west to find work and later, during WWII, joined the Navy. Arnold also joined the Navy in 1943. Another sister, Dolores, who was 15 when her mother died, had become a beautician in Columbus, NE to help support the family. Martha had married and was raising her own family when she died in 1940 from a tragic fire.
Jack’s younger brothers also joined the armed services after WWII. Kenny sensed in the Army and Don in the Air Force. All six Langan brothers served their country.
Jack grew into a solid athlete while attending St. Joseph’s High School.
After the U.S. entered World War II, the military gave him an opportunity to support himself. He enlisted in the Marine Corps on November 26, 1942; two months shy of his 18th birthday. After training at Camp Pendleton, CA, Jack was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6di Marine Regiment.
On Nov. 21, 1943, the unit took part in an amphibious assault on the small — barely two miles long and 800 yards wide — Island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll, about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. The Japanese had built an airstrip there, and the Marines needed it.
The U.S. landed 18,000 Marines against fewer than 5,000 defenders. Jack’s unit embarked on the west end of the island and fought their way east. They met fierce resistance from the Japanese, who faced annihilation. Only 146, mostly conscripted Korean laborers, were eventually taken alive.
About noon on November 22, Jack volunteered to take water to some Marines who were pinned down. As he stood up, he was hit in the head by Japanese machine-gun fire, according to a letter the family received from one of his Marine Corps buddies. He died immediately and “did not suffer one bit,” the Marine wrote.
Jack’s body was hastily buried by his fellow Marines. Like half of the 1,069 Americans who perished during close-quarters fighting November 20-23, 1943, his remains were never identified. Though records indicated he had been buried in Row D of Cemetery 33 on Betio, that row was never found. On Oct. 7, 1949, a military review board declared his remains to be “non-recoverable.”
Almost 60 years later, in 2008, members of a Florida-based nonprofit called History Flight Inc. began surveying Betio for graves after studying archival maps. They identified at least five possible burial sites. They shared their findings with JPAC, a predecessor organization to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
History Flight surveyors finally found the Row D remains in 2019, and the DPAA recovered them. Twenty-two caskets arrived at the agency’s Hawaii laboratory in July 2019. PFC Jack Langan’s identification is one of 18 of the Row D group announced so far.
McKown Funeral Home in Columbus will hold services for Langan on Wednesday, September 29 and will transport Langan to Platte Center, the city where he was born, for graveside services that same day.
The visitation for family and friends is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. that day.