On Friday, a group of local motorcyclists formed an honor guard to escort the remains of a man killed fighting for his country more than 70 years ago.
First Class Donald Tolson was a marine during World War II. He was killed during the war in the Pacific, but his remains were only recently recovered and identified.
Tolson was presumed to be killed in 1943 during the Battle of Tarawa and his family was left with questions about his death.
“We never knew what had happened to him,” said Connie Cross, his second cousin.
Tolson gave his life for his country; he never returned home or started a family.
“He enlisted at 17 and died when he was 20,” said cousin Judy Klingsmith.
“I can't imagine that kind of sacrifice,” Cross said.
However, his body was lost for more than 70 years until someone found his dog tags two years ago. Then, the Department of Defense contacted his relatives to find out everything they could about Tolson.
“I'd be going out to my mailbox every day hoping for something,” Cross said.
It took two years to identify Tolson's remains.
The Marine Corps and a local group of bikers called The Patriot's Guard welcomed Tolson by giving him a hero's burial.
“It's a small part of it, that we can help him get this honor when he comes home,” Ron Maki said.
“He and all soldiers deserve that honor and our respect,” said Cross.
Friday was a bittersweet day for Tolson's relatives, knowing now his sacrifice to his nation and knowing that he's home.
On Saturday, his family was finally able to lay him to rest at Mount Moriah Cemetery alongside his mother.
It's a service that was decades overdue.
“It's joyous that we can close this chapter,” Cross said.
More than 1,000 Americans and 2,000 Japanese soldiers died in the Battle of Tarawa. Tolson died on the first day of the battle.
After his death, the U.S. government gave Tolson several posthumous awards, including the Purple Heart and a Presidential Unit Citation.
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