Charles A. Drew


Charles Arvan Drew
F/2/8th Marines
190 Tyler Street, Coalinga, CA
Mother, Mrs. Linden Drew
February 2, 1914
September 11, 1942
November 20, 1943
Gilbert Islands
Tarawa / Betio
Missing In Action / Declared Dead
On 20 November 1943, the Second Battalion, 8th Marines assaulted Red Beach three, a heavily defended strip of sand on the island of Betio, Tarawa atoll. PFC Charles Arvan Drew, a member of F/2/8, was initially reported as missing in action after the bloody assault, and later declared dead.

PFC Drew’s remains were found in a field grave on Betio in 2015, and officially accounted for on 28 September 2017.

Purple Heart
Private First Class
Accounted For

DPAA Announcement
Arlington National Cemetery
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Charles Arvan Drew was born in San Jose, California, on the second day of February, 1914. Little is known about his life before the war; his family moved to Coalinga when “Arvan” was young, and he and his brother Howard attended the local schools. According to the 1940 census, Arvan also completed four years of college – an educational achievement which might have helped him follow his father, Jesse Bird Drew, into employment with the Standard Oil Company. By the time he reached his mid twenties, the stocky young man was a well-known citizen in Coalinga and a member of the local Masonic Lodge.

Drew’s draft card, completed in 1940.

Drew entered the Marine Corps on 11 September 1942, and completed his boot training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. In early 1943, he was assigned to a replacement battalion headed for the Pacific, and joined up with Company F, Second Battalion, 8th Marines at their camp near Paekakariki, New Zealand. The months that followed were filled with training exercises, endurance marches, and liberties in nearby towns, where locals made the Marines feel right at home.

In late October 1943, Private Drew’s company boarded a transport ship for the most extensive amphibious exercises they’d experienced to date. They would be aboard for nearly a month, with only a brief stopover at Efate in the New Hebrides group. While at sea, the men were informed that they were taking place in an operation codenamed GALVANIC; their objective, codenamed HELEN, was a small bird-shaped island whose real name was Betio.

Charles Arvan Drew and Company F were in the first wave scheduled to land on Betio’s Beach Red 3 on 20 November 1943. The first of their amphibious vehicles churned ashore shortly after 0900 hours, and as the Marines quickly dispersed, the Japanese opened fire.

Excerpt from the muster roll of 2/8th Marines, November 1943.

Private Drew was one of seventeen Marines from 2/8 who disappeared on the first day of the battle. Exactly how they met their deaths is not known, although many likely never made it off the beach. In the days after the battle, burial teams gathered up the remains that lay along the shore, behind the seawall, and around the Japanese bunkers and blockhouses that overlooked Red 3. More than forty of them were buried in trenches just inland from the beach, their individual graves marked by rough crosses. The spot was called “Division Cemetery #3” – or, more informally, “8th Marines Cemetery” for the men buried there. Despite the best efforts of the burial teams, sixteen of these men were not identified.

The Navy troops that garrisoned Betio undertook a program of “beautification” – removing the handmade grave markers and erecting memorial markers with little or no correlation to the actual burial sites. A giant cross for “Cemetery 27” (the Navy’s name for the Marine “Division Cemetery #3”) with a neat border and hand-painted plaque went up sometime in 1944, conveniently located behind the base theater. When the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company arrived at Betio in 1946 and excavated around the memorial, they were distressed to find “no remains, no remnants of equipment, or any other debris that would have indicated a burial place.” After two weeks of fruitless effort, the search was abandoned and the men in Cemetery 27 were declared non-recoverable.

In the summer of 2015, non-profit organization History Flight excavated a site believed to be the location of Cemetery 27, and recovered some 42 sets of individual remains. Some were quickly identified by dog tags or other personal effects, but others – many of whom had been buried as unknowns in 1943 – required much more intensive efforts. In September of 2017, the DPAA announced that Private Charles Arvan Drew was one of the men buried in Cemetery 27.

Drew’s remains were returned to his family, and on 11 June 2018, the 29-year-old Marine’s remains were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.