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Remains of Marine killed in WWII coming home

By DAVID SINGLETON | The Times-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 22, 2017

Albert and Catherine Hannon named their third son Harold Patrick, but everyone called him Tidley. He earned the nickname as a kid in Scranton's Bellevue section, a nod to his prowess at tidleywinks, as the childhood game was sometimes spelled at the time. The nickname stuck during his school years and through the series of jobs he held before joining the Marine Corps at age 26.

And, it is how Harold Patrick Hannon was known on Nov. 20, 1943.

That's the day Pfc .Tidley Hannon, hunkered with two other Marines under intense Japanese fire on a beach on the tiny island of Betioin the Tarawa atoll in the central Pacific, lost his life when an enemy bullet struck him in the head.

He would be among 1,100 Americans killed during 72 hours of fierce fighting during the Battle of Tarawa, one of the bloodiest of World War II.

He was buried, apparently near where he fell, and then later reinterred in a cemetery on the island, where he lay essentially lost until earlier this year.

On Oct. 5, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced his remains were recovered, positively identified and would be returned to his surviving family members.

Seventy-four years after making the supreme sacrifice for his country, Tidley Hannon is finally coming home.

Unanswered questions

Jefferson Twp. resident Bill Hannon, who was 2 years old when Tidley Hannon died and has no memory of his uncle, said his family had all but given up hope of ever bringing him back to Scranton for a proper memorial and burial.

"Really, words can't even describe how we feel -- myself and my brothers and my sisters," the 76-year-old Navy veteran said. "I don't even know how to say it."

Albert and Catherine Hannon received a telegram from the Marine Corps informing them of their son's death two days before Christmas in 1943, but it did not say how or where he was killed, The Scranton Times reported at the time.

The telegram stated only that it had been necessary "to temporarily bury the body in the locality where death occurred."

Bill Hannon said neither his grandparents nor any of his uncle's siblings, all now deceased, ever learned much more detail than that.

"I recall, even as young as I was, that there was a lot of grief over the matter and not knowing how he was killed or exactly where he was killed," he said.

Even after the military acknowledged Tidley Hannon was mortally wounded during an amphibious assault at Tarawa, many questions remained unanswered, his nephew said.

"It was unknown where he was buried, whether he was buried at sea or what have you," Bill Hannon said. "Rumor had it among the family that he never made it out of the landing craft before he was able to go ashore, but that turned out not to be true."

Seeking information

In the second week of July, Bill Hannon's niece, Emily Hannon Hecei, hosted a family get-together in Warren, a small city in northwest Pennsylvania on the edge of the Allegheny National Forest.

Her grandfather, William Hannon, served in the Army during World War II, including taking part in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, and Hecei ended up taking some of her relatives to the World War II Museum in nearby Eldred.

"I knew he had a brother who died in the war, but that's all I knew about him," she said of Tidley Hannon.

While they were at the museum, an aunt mentioned to a museum volunteer that he was killed in action but his body was never recovered.

Their interest piqued, Hecei and a cousin started research that eventually led them to the Chief Rick Stone and Family Charitable Foundation, which helps families seeking information about service members who were killed in action or remain missing.

Hecei sent the foundation her great-uncle's name "and a couple of weeks later they sent me an 89-page report on everything," from his military record to information about the Battle of Tarawa -- far more than anyone in her family had known previously about Tidley Hannon.

Most importantly, she said, the report included contact information for the Marine Corps service casualty office.

Coincidentally, around the time Hecei and her relatives were visiting the Eldred museum, Florida-based nonprofit organization History Flight Inc. was preparing to transfer 24 sets of remains of long-missing servicemen it recovered on Betio to the DPAA for official identification.

Unknown to anyone at the time, Tidley was one of them.

Remembrance and regret

Tidley Hannon was born in Scranton on Oct. 19, 1915, and grew up in the 400 block of Luzerne Street as part of a large Irish Catholic family -- five boys, four girls.

His father, Albert, was a well-known local paper hanger, according to The Sunday Times files.

Tidley attended but never finished high school. Before formally enlisting in the Marines on June 3, 1942, in Philadelphia, he worked for the Scranton Coal Co. and later as a tool setter at Remington Arms in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Three of his four brothers also served in the military -- Albert Jr. and Richard in the Navy and William in the Army.

Tidley completed his basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, in July 1942, and was assigned to the Marine barracks in Norfolk, Virginia, where he went "absent off leave" for 12 days the following month.

Bill Hannon said the incident, which is mentioned in the Stone Foundation report, endured in family lore because his father, William, was an Army MP assigned to Norfolk in 1942. His duties included rounding up military personnel who were in trouble for one reason or another.

His father tracked Tidley down and "more or less apprehended him," Bill Hannon said.

"He spoke with some distress about it," he said. "My father often expressed a regret that possibly if he had not talked him (Tidley) into turning himself in he might have survived the war. Of course, my father did what he thought was the right thing at the time."

Tidley Hannon faced a court martial but received what Bill Hannon described as a slap on the wrist: a $45 fine via a $15 a month reduction in pay for three months. In October 1942, he was promoted to private first class and ordered to San Diego for later deployment in the Pacific.

'Kid, quit shaking!'

Tarawa would be the most fortified atoll America would invade during World War II, with one Japanese admiral supposedly boasting the United States couldn't take it with a million men in 100 years.

On the morning of Nov. 20, 1943, Tidley Hannon went ashore at Betio with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, during the first day of the battle. At least 4,500 heavily dug-in Japanese troops guarded the island, the atoll's largest, and its strategically important airstrip.

In 2006, an Iowa newspaper, the Sioux City Journal, published Marine Corps veteran Bernard Thoreson's recollections of the Betio assault. The Stone Foundation included Thoreson's account in its report to Hecei.

Thoreson, who was a 20-year-old private in 1943, said he was one of 13 Marines aboard an amphibious tractor that went ashore at Betio and found a breach in the seawall. The driver kept going, eventually stopping to let Marines establish a position. However, when no other tractors made it through, the soldiers scattered.

"Three of us stayed together," Thoreson recalled. "The guy next to me was named Tidley Hannon. I don't remember where he was from. We found a shell hole and jumped in. Then Tidley was shot in the head.

"The soldier on the other side of Hannon looked and said, 'Kid, quit shaking!" He was shaking because he was dying."

Thoreson and the other Marine looked at one another and jumped from the hole, dashing back through the opening in the seawall.

Hecei said aside from being the only known eyewitness account of her great-uncle's death, Thoreson's story shows something else.

"Even the people he was with in the military knew him as Tidley," she said.

Locating the lost

The Marines who fell during the Battle of Tarawa were hastily buried by their surviving comrades on Betio, often in trenches or makeshift graves with markers made of wood from empty ammunition crates, before Navy Seabees arrived and quickly started transforming the island into a fully functional U.S. military base.

Teams from the U.S. Army Graves Registration Service returned after the war to exhume and repatriate the remains, but could not locate more than 500 servicemen, most of them Marines. In 1949, the Army Quartermaster General's Office declared the missing servicemen "unrecoverable."

In 2007, History Flight began actively searching for and recovering the lost remains.

Katherine Rasdorf, a volunteer History Flight researcher and family liaison, said when isolated burials were encountered during construction activities on Betio, the remains would be disinterred and consolidated into larger cemeteries on the island. That was most likely the case with Tidley Hannon's remains, which military records indicated were interred in Cemetery 33 in an area designated as Plot 13, which is known to have held later burials, she said.

All 24 sets of remains History Flight archeological teams recovered earlier this year were discovered adjacent to the cemetery site, but most were found outside its recorded boundaries.

The DPAA formally took possession of the remains during a repatriation ceremony July 24 on Tarawa, after which they were flown to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

Positive match

Once she learned the correct office she needed to contact about her great-uncle, Hecei said things began falling into place quickly.

"We started making tons and tons of phone calls and then they said they thought they maybe had him identified," she said.

"What they needed was DNA, so my Uncle Bill sent in his DNA."

Bill Hannon said the family received the official notification from the Marine Corps casualty office a few weeks ago: Based on a positive DNA match and a forensic evaluation of his uncle's dental records, the remains recovered on Tarawa are indeed those of Tidley Hannon.

Family members plan to meet with a Marine Corps representative at Bill Hannon's home Nov. 4 to make arrangements for returning the remains to Scranton.

Tidley Hannon is expected to be laid to rest in Cathedral Cemetery, where his parents and most of his siblings are buried.

"I think the whole family is in agreement," Hecei said. "Everyone just wants to give him the proper tribute that he deserves."

'One of my best'

The military notified Albert and Catherine Hannon in March 1944 that Tidley Hannon was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart for his heroism during combat.

In a letter to the parents, Marine Corps Capt. Robert Rogers said words could not adequately express his sympathy for the loss of their son.

"To say your son was killed under enemy gunfire in our recent operation is not enough, for Private Hannon was one of my best men," Roberts wrote. "He was well-liked and well thought of in our organization.

"The highest compliment paid a Marine is to say his job was well done, and his was, even though it meant giving his life for what we believe in -- freedom."

dsingleton@timesshamrock.com

(c) 2017 The Times-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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