'A promise has been fullfilled': Marine killed in 1943 returned to Arlington Heights
After 75 years of anonymity in death, Marine Sgt. Harry A. Carlsen finally came home Wednesday to receive a well-earned recognition and to be put to an honorable rest.
A police motorcade escorted the remains of the World War II technical sergeant, killed in action Nov. 20, 1943, from O'Hare International Airport to Arlington Heights for memorial services before the once "unknown" soldier is laid to rest.
Escorted by the Patriot Guard and a Rolling Thunder Honor Guard, the procession made its way through Bensenville, Mount Prospect and Elk Grove Village before arriving at Glueckert Funeral Home in Arlington Heights, where veterans and relatives awaited to honor the fallen soldier.
A U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard accompanied by many veterans, including a flag line along Arlington Heights Road, received Carlsen's body at the funeral home.
"This is unbelievable they were able to find him," said Carl Laub, an Air Force veteran from Arlington Heights who stood along Arlington Heights Road with a flag.
Carlsen, 31, was storming Japanese strongholds on the beach during the Battle of Tarawa on the tiny island of Betio in the Pacific Theater of World War II when he was shot and killed. He was buried on the island with a promise his remains would be returned home after the war.
Instead, he spent most of the next 75 years as "Unknown X-82" buried in Section F Grave 1212 in The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was among 550 Marines killed in the battle whose remains were not identified.
"It means everything for me and my family," said Carlsen's great-nephew, Ed Spellman of St. Charles, who grew up in Arlington Heights and was among several relatives who traveled to the suburbs to welcome Carlsen home. "I feel that 71 years later a promise has been fulfilled. This day has finally come and we are very grateful."
Carlsen's niece, Jane Hilmer, echoed that sentiment. "The reason that it's so important to bring him back here is this is where he is from," she said.
An auto mechanic with no children, Carlsen moved to California after a divorce and joined the Marines 12 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He wrote a half-dozen letters that were mailed to his parents in Brookfield during the war -- including his final letter, dated Sept. 13, 1943.
A visitation for Carlsen will be 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the funeral home at 1520 N. Arlington Heights Road, before a service and burial at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, south of Joliet.
• Daily Herald staff photographer Bev Horne contributed to this report.