Last year, Jacob Cruz’s niece received a phone call at work: Her uncle was coming home. The news was so impossible to believe that she hung up to gather herself.
A telegram from the United States Marines said the 18-year-old private was killed in action but divulged little else. The ongoing Pacific campaign meant Jacob would be buried in a temporary grave in the Tarawa atoll, where he and more than 1,000 other Marines and sailors died fighting the Imperial Japanese Army.
Weeks turned into months and into years. The military finally admitted it couldn’t find Jacob’s burial place. His name was etched at the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
On March 24 at the Los Angeles International Airport, a contingent of Marines, Los Angeles police officers and airport workers stood silently alongside the Cruz family as the flag-draped casket descended from an airplane.
Mike pushed his mother in a wheelchair so she could be the first to welcome back Jacob. She gently touched the casket with her hand.
“To have a sibling that still remembers one of these soldiers is rare,” said Windish, who accompanied the family that day. “Ruth was holding my hand and looking into my soul. She kept saying, ‘Thank you so much for bringing my brother back.’”