August 11, 2014 --
Four years ago, trumpet player Staff Sergeant Steven Williams, then a member of the 2d Marine Division Band, stood on a beach in the Pacific Ocean to sound “Taps” for the fallen of the Battle of Tarawa. As the current Assistant Drum Major of the Marine Band, Williams recently led the band in a funeral for World War II casualty Pfc. Randolph Allen, USMC, who was killed in action on Nov. 20, 1943, near that same beach.
In 2010 Williams participated in a mission with History Flight, a private organization which excavates wartime fighting positions. History Flight worked with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) to establish a team of active duty joint service personnel and professional archaeologists to locate, exhume, and identify the remains of unaccounted-for Americans. Williams was selected to be part of the team to travel to the Tarawa Atoll to sound “Taps.”
“They wanted a bugler from the 2d Marine Division because the bodies we were looking for were from that division,” Williams said. “It was truly a humbling experience.”
While he traveled and assisted with the recovery efforts, he met Lt. Col. Dean Ladd, USMC (Ret.), a veteran of Tarawa who fought in the second wave of attacks during the Battle of Tarawa. Ladd was shot but recovered and later led the assaults on Tinian and Saipan as part of the Marine Corps’ island-hopping campaign.
On the island, the team, including Ladd and Williams, sifted through coral to find remains of those who valiantly fought in the battle. A cordon of military personnel, dignitaries, and a color guard gathered as body bearers placed flag-draped transfer cases of remains onto a C-130 and Williams sounded “Taps.”
“For me the experience was almost surreal, nostalgic,” Williams said. “So it was an honor to lead the band in the funeral for Pfc. Allen, someone who fought for his country; now he’s finally home.”