Skip Navigation
Emmett Leonard Kines

Courtesy Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Emmett Leonard Kines

"Casualties many; Percentage of dead not known; Combat efficiency; we are winning."

Colonel David M. Shoup (Tarawa, November 21, 1943)

Emmett Leonard Kines was born on June 27, 1919, in Grafton, West Virginia. He was born in time to be recorded in the 1920 Federal Census, where his name appeared with his parents, Jacob and Jocia Miranda Cox Kines and his brother, Claudis. A child born in 1913, Dakota, had died in 1915. Jacob was a machinist. Though given the name Leonard Emmett (as noted on a military grave marker), even early in his life, he was known as Emmett, and this transposition stayed with him.

The 1930 census taker found the family still in Grafton. Emmett and Claudis were joined by Mary, Virgil, Betty and Walter. At this time, Jacob was a laborer in a glass factory. A lodger also lived with the family, as did Jocia's mother, Ella Cox.

1940 finds the family with an additional child, Hazel. According to the information taken for the census, Jacob worked for the state road. Emmett was working as a farm hand, no longer attending school, but he had a year of high school education. His name also appears on the census with a Lambert household in Booths Creek, where a cousin also worked; he was perhaps living with an uncle. A woman, Bessie Cox, was housekeeper there. In the years before he joined the Marines, he also worked on a family farm in Preston County, worked on forestry and agricultural projects with the Civilian Conservation Corps, and lived with an aunt who cared for his grandparents, according to an article in the Mountain Statesman. Emmett Kines liked to farm, hunt, and fish. He had a great sense of humor, according to his sister, Betty Kines Huffman. ("Marine's Remains Returned to Grafton, W. Va.," Mountain Statesman, 17 September 2016, p. 9C.) In military documents, Emmett Kines is described as 5 feet 7 inches tall, with brown eyes, brown hair, and a ruddy complexion.

Emmett Kines enlisted in the Marines in November 1942 in Clarksburg. He trained at Parris Island, South Carolina, and in New River, North Carolina. He left New River as part of the 5th Replacement Battalion. From New River, the unit went to New Zealand to prepare for its first battle. (Research Report: PVT Emmett Leonard Kines, The Chief Rick Stone and Family Charitable Foundation, 2014, p.37.)

In 1942, Emmett Kines' name appeared on the muster rolls of officers and enlisted men of the U.S .Marine Corps. In April 1943, a muster roll notes that Pvt. Kines enlisted on November 4, 1942, and in April was listed on the muster roll for Co. F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, Reinforcement, 2nd Marine Division, Force Marine Fleet in the field. In the remarks section it was noted that he joined from the 5th Replacement Battalion. The location was not noted. In military documents, he appears in the Asiatic-Pacific area from January 1943 through November 1943. The 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, was designated to land on Red Beach 3 during the attack on Tarawa, transported there by the USS Heywood. (Research Report: PVT Emmett Leonard Kines, The Chief Rick Stone and Family Charitable Foundation, 2014, p.38.)

In a letter to his mother in March 1943, Emmett Kines offers to send money home for the family and asks about other family members. He explains he has been traveling since training in New River, North Carolina, so if they don't hear from him often, they are not to worry:that is just the way of the Marines and he likes it. In a light-hearted mood, he promises to send Betty a grass skirt made by the natives. Three months later he remains upbeat when he writes:

I will write you a few lines and let you know that I am getting along fine. I will not write much because I am getting ready to go on Liberty and don't have much time. I am sending some more Money home. If you want to you can spend it. If not save it. I can probly use some cash when I get back. Be sure to write and let me know how Hazel is getting along. Tell her and Walter I am glad they both got promoted. Well I don't have much more time so take care of yourself and answer soon.

Decades later, in 2016, Pvt. Kines' sister, Betty Kines Huffman, would remember, "Being a Marine was something he always wanted to do." ("Marine's Remains Returned to Grafton, W. Va.," Mountain Statesman, 17 September 2016, p. 9C.) Being a Marine would mean a trip half way around the world to the tiny Japanese-held island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. In response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. began a journey to Japan. To reach this goal would mean defeating the enemy on strategic islands in between in order to control territory, acquire locations for bases, and create protected territory from which to operate. The Gilbert Islands were a stepping stone to the Marshall Islands. Betio was a primary target during Operation Galvanic. November 20, 1943, was the first day of the offensive.

Emmett Kines was one of 18,000 Marines who were thought to easily take the island, despite the claim of Japanese Admiral Shibazaki that the Americans would not take Tarawa with a million men in a hundred years. Hurdles to the American goal arose as soon as the campaign began. When the forces began their assault on the island, the tide was low. This was the beginning of a battle that was not meant to be much of a battle. It pitted 18,000 Marines against 4,500 Japanese, but the impact of low tide on a landing mission amid coral reefs was difficult to overcome. The Marines plunged ahead, attempting to free the boats that were snagged on the coral reefs. When these efforts proved futile, the Marines were forced to swim or wade ashore in waist-deep water while taking heavy enemy fire. Gear that was not meant to withstand this kind of soaking was lost, including radios, which severely hampered communication. Seventy-six hours later, the battle was over. There were heavy casualties on both sides, but the U.S. Marines prevailed and now held the island. ("Battle of Tarawa,", 2009, accessed 18 November 2016,

To say that there were heavy casualties means little without context and comparison. The 76-hour Battle of Tarawa cost the Marines the lives of more than 1000 men, with 2000 more wounded. ("Battle of Tarawa,", 2009, accessed 18 November 2016, During the six-month long Battle of Guadalcanal, the casualties for the Marines and the Army were less than 2000. ("Battle of Guadalcanal,, 2009, accessed 18 November 2016, It's true that these battles were much different from each other, but the loss of life at Tarawa was a shock to ears of Americans at home. The heavy loss of life at Tarawa might have improved the outcome of later missions. ("Battle of Tarawa,", 2009, accessed 18 November 2016,

The first day of fighting on Betio, November 20, 1943, was a frustrating day for the Marines because the timing of several key elements was off and the seas were not cooperative. Sea turbulence slowed transfer of troops from the ship to landing craft and a pre-invasion air-raid was delayed. When one element's execution was delayed, the ripple effect meant the timing of other elements was also off. The tide was more shallow than expected, which caused heavier landing craft to be caught on the reef. Those who made it ashore did so under enemy fire, and they were wet, tired, and ill-equipped. ("Battle of Tarawa,", 2009, accessed 18 November 2016, It was a very bad day, that day during which Emmett Kines lost his life. The family would learn of this around Christmas and receive letters from the military in January 1944, expressing condolences formally. A letter from Capt. Martin F. Barrett to Jocia Kines in January 1944 said that Emmett Kines died while manning a position on the front line. The letter did not detail the wounds sustained, but Capt. Barrett noted that Emmett Kines suffered no pain and that death was instantaneous. (Research Report: PVT Emmett Leonard Kines, The Chief Rick Stone and Family Charitable Foundation, 2014, p. 40.) In February 1944 Emmett's chaplain, Lt. W. Wyeth Willard, wrote to Jocia Kines: "Your son lived courageously and died sacrificially for the love of us all. He did not hesitate to take the step which led to his death. He died as he lived:bravely and heroically." Said Emmett Kines' sister, Betty Kines Huffman, in an interview in the Mountain Statesman (21 September 2016, p. A1), "My mother sat crying for two weeks. She was just sure he was going to come home. She died, but she was 97 when she died, so she was waiting." Jocia Kines waited alone, for Jacob died in 1946 of coronary thrombosis. He was 55, and a state road worker.

The story for Pvt. Kines might have ended there, as it did for many who were lost at sea at Tarawa. In 1949, a military review board determined that Pvt. Kines' remains were unrecoverable after missions to try to find the graves of lost Marines on Betio. (Michael Throne, "VA Employee Will Bury Uncle He Never Met," Chillicothe [OH] Gazette, 18 September 2016, accessed 18 November 2016, We know that Pvt. Kines made it ashore on November 20 because of diligent research of the facts of the battle, advances in DNA testing, advances in remote sensing technologies, and the dedication of the organization History Flight to bringing home lost servicemen. During the 73 years between his death in 1943 and the eventual identification and homecoming of Pvt. Kines in 2016, World War II ended; most, but not all, of the people that Emmett Kines knew died; and a long road toward peace and cooperation between Japan and America was completed.

History Flight is an all-volunteer, privately funded effort to find, identify, and transport home the remains of Americans who died and were buried overseas. In 2012 History Flight reported that "the remains of a number of missing US Marines were recovered from sites that History Flight search teams located on Tarawa Atoll, by a crack team of experts from the DOD's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. Our six-year effort to find missing Marines on Tarawa has cost over $650,000, 12,000-plus volunteer man hours, and personal hardship for dedicated team members, but it has continually shown positive results." ("2012 History Flight 2012 MIA Search Summary," History Flight, accessed 18 November 2016,

In June 2015, a gravesite was found that possibly contained the remains of Marines previously unidentified. The Kines family was contacted and asked for a DNA sample. This was offered by Hazel Kines Bennett. Unfortunately, Hazel Bennett died that December, before there was confirmation of Emmett Kines' identification. (Michael Throne, "VA Employee Will Bury Uncle He Never Met," Chillicothe [OH] Gazette, 18 September 2016, accessed 18 November 2016,

According to Emmett Kines' obituary, published on the Donald G. Ford Funeral Home website, "In 2015 Mark Noah and his History Flight Team discovered Cemetery 27 on Tarawa which held the bodies of 36 Americans. Remains were sent to the DPA West in Hawaii for final identification and the family received the good news early this year [2016] that our Marine was coming home." Emmett Kines' remains were accompanied to the Donald G. Ford Funeral Home by the Patriot Guard and police. (Melissa Toothman, "WWII Marine Transferred Home," Mountain Statesman, 19 September 2016, p. A1.)

West Virginia newspapers and broadcast stations carried the news throughout the state. At the ceremony, ahead of interment at the West Virginia National Cemetery in Pruntytown, Pvt. Kines was afforded full military honors. The service was attended by Marines, several veterans' organizations, city and government officials, and members of the public. Of his immediate family, only his sister Betty survives, and she did attend the ceremonies, with members of the extended family. Said Lorraine Isner, with the Taylor County Honor Guard, "Pvt. Emmett Kines, USMC, would again represent the greatest of our nation, the heart of the people, the soul of his family, the faith of our forefathers and share his life that others may live." Chaplain Shinn said that Kines "demonstrated the best of the nation within the worst of times." (Melissa Toothman, "Late Marine Honored at Service," Mountain Statesman, 21 September 2016, p. A5.)

A Morgantown Dominion Post online article included a gallery of photos and a video created by Ron Rittenhouse. In the video, Betty Huffman expresses her feelings on the emotional day of Emmett Kines' interment ceremony. She received the folded military flag and a salute from the Marine who presented her with the flag. Holding a portrait of her brother, she was surrounded by family, friends, Marines, members of the Patriot Guard, and members of the public. She said of Emmett's return, "I can't express it.. It finally happened."

"He was my buddy," she said. "I've spent my whole life missing him, and now he's back home." (Jim Bissett, "Vet's Remains Laid to Rest 73 Years Later," Morgantown Dominion Post, 20 September 2016,

Emmett Kines' nephew, Walter Bennett, son of Hazel Bennett, appears in the video, in military dress uniform, and says, "It means a lot that our country never gave up on him." Walter Bennett explains that he'd joined the military in the tradition of his uncles, including those who served in World War II and other uncles who served in Korea and Vietnam. To the Chillicothe Gazette, Walter Bennett said, "All of my uncles served in the military.four uncles.served in World War II during this period and another uncle.served in Korea and Vietnam. It is part of my heritage; I joined 10 days after I finished high school. I'm going to go to the funeral and will wear my uniform to honor him." (Michael Throne, "VA Employee Will Bury Uncle He Never Met," Chillicothe [OH] Gazette, 18 September 2016, accessed 18 November 2016,

Photographer Michael Elyard was part of the funeral procession and provides a moving tribute to Private Kines, capturing many of the heartfelt emotions of the day of his burial. Here are a few:

Kines funeral

Private Kines is brought out to the hearse for the final leg of his long journey home. All funeral photos courtesy Michael Elyard

Kines funeral

The procession starts up Rt. 50, led by two police vehicles, the Patriot Guard Riders, family the hearse, and over 100 cars.

Kines funeral

At the cemetery, it was quite impressive to see the Honor Guards (USMC and VFW) as well as the Patriot Guard flag line.

Kines funeral

After 73 years, welcome home to West Virginia, Private Kines!

military marker

Pvt. Kines' military marker in Woodsdale Memorial Park Cemetery. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Pvt. Kines was awarded a Purple Heart, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal, according to a death certificate provided to Jocia M. Kines in 1949. Cenotaph memorials to Emmett Kines appear in the Woodsdale Memorial Park Cemetery in Pruntytown, West Virginia, in the family plot where his parents are buried. One is a large civilian vertical stone and another is a military marker, which displays the name Leonard E. Kines. Woodsdale is not far from the West Virginia National Cemetery where Pvt. Kines was buried. He is also commemorated in the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial within the National Cemetery of the Pacific.

Emmett Kines' headstone in the West Virginia National Cemetery is inscribed with the words "Once was lost, Now is found." Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

The Mountain Statesman in 1997 carried a short announcement of salute to the Kines family, explaining that all four sons of Jacob and Jocia served in the military. Claudis, Emmett, and Howard served in World War II, while Walter served in Korea. With the return of Emmett's remains, the family could finally achieve closure, although only Betty was able to witness that event.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens, with editorial assistance from Patricia Richards McClure
October 2016


Emmett Leonard Kines

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

Veterans Memorial Database

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Archives and History