North Dakota WWII vet's remains identified 78 years after he died during 'banzai' attack

Pfc. Robert L. Alexander of Tolley, North Dakota, received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart awards, according to the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

Arlington Cemetery in Arlington, VA. .jpg
Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Photo courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery

FARGO — Seventy-eight years after a U.S. soldier died during World War II, his remains have been identified by a laboratory.

Pfc. Robert L. Alexander, 27, of Tolley, North Dakota, fought with the 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Division, and died on July 7, 1944, while defending against a “mass suicide or banzai” attack on Saipan in the Mariana Islands, according to a statement the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency issued Friday, Aug. 19.

Alexander received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart awards, according to the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs.

Following the end of World War II, the American Graves Registration Service was tasked with investigating and recovering missing American personnel in the Pacific Theater. At the time, they searched for and disinterred remains on Saipan, but could not identify Alexander.

He was declared non-recoverable in September 1949, with his remains — designated as “Unknown X-27 27th Infantry Division Cemetery” — were interred in the Fort William McKinley Cemetery, now called the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in the Philippines.


In 2019, “Unknown X-27” was disinterred and sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for analysis. Scientists there used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence to identify Alexander.

The DPAA Laboratory is the largest skeletal identification laboratory in the world and is staffed by more than 30 anthropologists, archaeologists and forensic odontologists, or those who work with dental remains, according to its website.

Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used DNA analysis to help identify Alexander.

Alexander’s name is recorded in the Court of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, and a rosette will be placed next to his name to show that he has been accounted for, the DPAA said.

Alexander will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia at a date yet to be determined.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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