More than 70 years after his death on a remote island of the Pacific, the remains of Pfc. George Bernard Murray will officially be returned to his hometown of Oceano this week.
A first-class Marine escort will bring Murray’s remains back to Oceano on Thursday. Then at 11 a.m. Friday, Murry will be laid to rest in a full military ceremony at the Arroyo Grande Cemetery, in a grave next to his mother, Edith Murray.
A funeral procession is scheduled to leave Marshall-Spoo Sunset Funeral Chapel in Grover Beach at 10 a.m. Friday and make its way down Grand Avenue to Highway 1, said Oceano resident Linda Austin, a close friend of the family.
From Highway 1, the procession will make its way through Oceano to Halcyon Road and on to the cemetery. The public is invited to attend the graveside ceremony.
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Murray, who died of a gunshot wound to the chest during World War II, was buried in a grave next to the other 1,000 Marines and American servicemen killed during four days of fighting in November 1943 over the control of the Tarawa Atoll island chain.
Over the next 74 years, their remains would be scattered and record of Murray’s final resting place lost.
Meanwhile, his family back home in Oceano waited for Murray’s body to be returned — a decadeslong wait that will finally end Thursday.
“It was a big surprise — I didn’t expect it,” said George Winslett, Murray’s closest living relative. “I never really expected him to come home.”
Murray’s remains were successfully identified in June and will be brought back to Oceano thanks largely to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a federal department that locates missing military personnel from the nation’s conflicts.
The Accounting Agency conducts digs to recover the lost remains of fallen servicemen and women, and then uses historical records and DNA testing to help identify them. According to the Agency, 73,119 World War II servicemen and women have still not been recovered or accounted for, including 5,647 in California.
In 2010, the group began a massive effort to recover and identify the lost Marines at Tarawa.
“This is an amazing part of our military that we never had any idea that they did this work,” Austin said. “Painstaking work they do.”
For Murray, official identification came June 6, thanks to a comparison of Winslett’s DNA and the DNA in a recovered tooth.
Tribune reporter Kaytlyn Leslie contributed to this report.