INDIANAPOLIS — On Friday, the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, Suzanne Omtvedt spoke from her Florida home about her uncle, a man she never met, but knew a lot about.
Omtvedt is the closest living relative of Marine Pfc. Charles Miller, an Albany, Indiana native who was just 19 when he died during heavy fighting against the Japanese on the Pacific island of Betio in 1943—combat that left some 1000 Marines and Sailors dead in less than four-days. The remains of many could not be identified and were listed as "non-recoverable."
Miller was the brother of Omtvedt's mother. He joined the Marines right out of high school. His death happened two-years before Omtvedt was born. She was raised in Muncie, graduated from Ball State and worked as a nurse for about 40-years before retiring to Florida a few years ago.
This is where History Flight enters the picture. It's a non-profit organization that specializes in research, recovery and repatriating Missing In Action Servicemen. In 2009, History Flight found a burial site on Betio with the remains of Americans who died in the war.
Miller's remains were identified through dental records. The process takes a long time, as does finding living relatives of the deceased.
"There was a message on Ancestry.com," said Omtvedt. Was she willing to send DNA that would link her to Pfc. Miller? "I submitted that DNA never thinking that after 70-years it would really provide anything, but it did," she said.
This past May, Omtvedt got the news. "I learned that they found him three days before Memorial Day of this year."
Arrangements are being made for a military burial later this year at Arlington National Cemetery. Omtvedt will be there, along with other relatives she has contacted. "Coming from a military family, this has meant so much more to me," she said.
She recently received a flag case with the medals her uncle received, including the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Ribbon. The flag that will be draped over Miller's casket will be placed in the case.
77-years after his death on a tiny island in the Pacific, Hoosier Marine Charles Miller will receive a proper military burial.