Leonard A. Tyma


Leonard Anthony Tyma
Company E
Second Battalion
8th Marines
1418 West Blackhawk Street, Chicago, IL
Mother, Mrs. Mary Lobeck
May 27, 1922
January 20, 1942
November 20, 1943
Gilbert Islands
Tarawa / Betio
Killed In Action
PFC Leonard “Sonny” Tyma was killed in action on 20 November 1943, when his battalion assaulted Beach Red 3 on the island of Betio, Tarawa atoll.His remains were recovered from the island in 2013, and officially accounted for on 6 August 2018.
Purple Heart
Private First Class
Accounted For

DPAA Announcement
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Leonard “Sonny” Tyma was born in Dyer, Indiana, on 27 May 1922. His parents, Leonard and Mary Herman Tyma, were still newlyweds; they took Sonny to live in Chicago (Leonard’s hometown) but their marriage did not last long. By 1930, Mary had remarried to Frank Lobeck and settled with her son on Kuehl Street. They were frequent visitors to Mary’s family, and Sonny grew close to his Herman cousins who lived on a farm in St. John, Indiana. Leona Halfman (née Herman) was only a year younger than Sonny, and thought of him as a brother. He was “a lovely little guy,” Leona recalled. “We always had a good time with him.”(1) Sonny so loved the country life that he moved out to St. John to help his aging grandfather keep the place running. The 1940 census lists 65-year-old Aloysius Herman and 17-year-old “Lenard” Tyma laboring together on the farm.

On 20 January 1942, Leonard enlisted in the Marine Corps from Chicago, and within days was sweating out his first week of boot camp at MCRD San Diego. He handily completed the rigorous training, even earning the prestigious badge of an expert rifleman, and after a brief spell on guard duty in San Diego was assigned to Company E, Second Battalion, 8th Marines. The 8th were on duty overseas, so on 12 April 1942 Private Tyma boarded the USS Zeilin and departed the United States. Two weeks later, he debarked at Pago Pago harbor on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa.

The 8th Marines were the main garrison force defending Samoa from a potential Japanese attack – which, in April of 1942, still seemed quite likely. As the months passed, however, the threat of invasion receded and more Marine units arrived, formed, trained, and departed for points west. In early August, word of the Guadalcanal invasion reached Samoa, and the Marines stationed there began to worry about missing the war. Private Tyma’s regiment would have to wait their turn; they did not arrive on Guadalcanal until 4 November 1942, when the campaign was almost three months old.

Over the next twelve weeks, E/2/8 did a lot of patrolling, fought a few skirmishes and a pitched battle or two, and tried to endure the privations of life on Guadalcanal. Private Tyma did his duty, escaping wounds and major mishaps, from the day he landed until the end of January when he boarded an LCVP and motored out to a transport ship that would take him to New Zealand. In their camp outside of Wellington, the company rested and recuperated from their exertions on the battlefield. Many faced recurring bouts of tropical diseases, especially malaria. Private Tyma may have been among the sufferers, as muster rolls reveal a number of hospital stays during his months in New Zealand. The rest of his time was spent training and going on liberty in Wellington – both of which were made more enjoyable by a long-awaited promotion to Private First Class.

Training accelerated as the months went on, and by October the entire Second Marine Division was taking part in massive, complicated landing exercises. In late October, Tyma’s battalion boarded the USS Heywood and departed from New Zealand. After a few days at sea they reached Efate, where final rehearsals were held, and then headed west to the Gilbert Islands.

On 20 November 1943, 2/8 was ordered to seize and hold a landing zone designated Red Beach 3 on the island of Betio, Tarawa atoll. Leonard Tyma’s Company E was in the assault, and one of the first American units to set foot on the beach. Two of the company’s vehicles rumbled ashore and found a lucky break in the sea wall. The rest piled up on the beach itself, and the men were quickly pinned down.

Red Beach 3, 20 November 1943. Marines retrieve ammunition and supplies from the dead. Official USMC photo.

Leonard Tyma disappeared on the first day of the battle. Although it seemed most likely that he was dead – one only had to look a the casualty rate in E/2/8 to understand why – there were evidently no eyewitnesses to his death or burial, and it was hoped that he might turn up in a hospital somewhere. When a thorough search failed to turn up any trace of Tyma, his records were updated to reflect a finding of killed in action on 20 November 1943.

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

Tyma’s body was found in the days after the battle, and was buried in the largest cemetery on the island – called “East Division Cemetery” by the Marines, and “Cemetery 33” by the Navy who took over garrison duties. He was not identifiable at the time; a marker was later set up over Grave #12, Row 3, Plot 14 of Cemetery 33, but this was known and acknowledged to be only a memorial. In 1946, the cemetery was located by a team from the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, and hundreds of remains were exhumed for examination, temporarily reburied in the Lone Palm cemetery on Betio, and finally sent back to Hawaii for final identification. Again, none of the remains could be identified as “Sonny” Tyma. His case was closed in 1949. The verdict: permanently nonrecoverable.

Leonard Tyma’s name was added to the Tablets of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. His cousins visited the cemetery to photograph his monument, and told subsequent generations about the “fantastic” young Marine who never came home.

In 2013, representatives from nonprofit organization History Flight traveled to Betio to conduct excavations at the site of Cemetery 33. They recovered numerous human remains, all of which were carefully collected and delivered to the DPAA in a unilateral turnover. Using these remains, with additional forensic clues and material analysis, the DPAA was able to officially identify Leonard Anthony Tyma on 6 August 2018.

Leonard Tyma will be buried in St. Adalbert Catholic Cemetery
on 27 April 2019.

(1) Becky Jacobs, “‘I was waiting for him to come home’: The identified remains of a WWII Marine stir up family memories,” The Post-Tribune (21 September 2018), online edition last accessed 17 October 2018.

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