On 4 February, the DPAA announced that Corporal Oscar Eli Koskela, of Detroit, Michigan has been accounted for as of 8 June 2017. Read their press release here.
Oscar was born to Eli and Grace Koskela on 28 December 1921, and spent his entire childhood in Detroit. He studied electronics at Cass Technical High School and, after graduating with the 1940’s January class, got a job with the Michigan Bell Telephone Company.
Young Koskela was still working for Bell when Pearl Harbor was attacked; on 18 May 1942, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent to MCRD San Diego for boot camp. Although he qualified as a rifle sharpshooter, his previous employment and aptitude for electronics made him a candidate for radio school. Koskela excelled at his Signal Battalion training – so much so that he made Private First Class at graduation – and was assigned to duty with Battery D, 2nd Special Weapons Battalion. Within days of joining, he was on his way to Wellington, New Zealand.
While some elements of the 2nd Special Weapons Battalion fought on Guadalcanal, it is not immediately clear if Koskela’s platoon was among them. He continued to excel as a communications specialis, earning a promotion to corporal in the early months of 1943 while encamped in New Zealand. At some point, he was classed as a radio repairman – a role that may have saved him from the hell of Tarawa. When his battery embarked for Operation GALVANIC, Corporal Koskela was ordered to stay behind as part of the rear echelon. He would rejoin the survivors in Hawaii, at a rest camp that would be aptly named “Camp Tarawa.”
In January 1944, the majority of the 2nd Special Weapons Battalion was disbanded and the men transferred to other units. Corporal Koskela wound up in the “Second Separate Infantry Battalion” attached to the V Amphibious Corps. Because they had no permanent regimental assignment, the battalion was considered an “orphan” unit – which the men started calling the “Bastard Battalion.” They would finally become the First Battalion, 29th Marines in May 1944 – while en route to the invasion of Saipan.
The “Bastards” went ashore on Saipan’s Green Beach 2 on 15 June 1944 and were immediately hit by intense shell fire. For the next several days, they fought in support of the 8th Marines. (James Campbell has an excellent account of 1/29 on Saipan on HistoryNet). Japanese artillery was a constant threat in the early part of the battle, and it is possible that one of those shells landed too close to Corporal Koskela on D+3.
Medial personnel aboard the USS Solace were busily receiving casualties on 18 June 1944 when an unconscious Marine was brought aboard. He was “in extremis,” they noted, suffering from a compound skull fracture and the telltale signs of shock. The young man never woke up: he died at 1840 hours. Solace was unable to determine his identity, but made sure to take his fingerprints before sending the body ashore for burial.
Corporal Koskela was reported as wounded in action by his battalion; later that year, when the fingerprints of the unconscious unknown were compared against his those in his service record, his status was updated to “died of wounds.” Unfortunately, the burial party operating on Saipan did not take additional fingerprints – they simply buried the unidentified man as “unknown” and left it at that.
Several years ago, research conducted by Ted Darcy’s WFI Research Group matched Corporal Koskela to the remains of “X-50” from the 4th Marine Division Cemetery on Saipan. Darcy submitted his findings to the DPAA in 2015, and it is believed that this information led to Koskela’s exhumation and final identification in 2017.
Welcome home, Corporal Koskela. Semper Fi.
Final recovery information for this Marine has not yet been released.
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