Remains of Temple WWII vet to return home

  • Paul Quinn of Temple with photos, reports and medals relating to his uncle, David Quinn. David’s remains were considered lost during World War II. but were recently located due to a DNA matching system, and will be returned for burial in Temple this spring. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • David Quinn of Temple, who was one of three Temple residents killed in World War II. His remains have recently been identified through DNA matching, and will be transported to Temple from Hawaii this spring for burial. —Courtesy photo

  • David Quinn with his bride, Zoe Boeson, whom he was only married to a few short months before his death in the Battle of Tarawa in World War II. —Courtesy photo

  • David Quinn, right, and his father, George Quinn, during a visit before David was shipped out to New Zealand. —Courtesy photo

  • David Quinn of Temple and his “alligator”. —Courtesy photo

  • Paul Quinn of Temple with photos, reports and medals relating to his uncle, David Quinn. David’s remains were considered lost during World War II, but were recently located due to a DNA matching system, and will be returned for burial in Temple this spring. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, January 24, 2018 6:10PM

For years, Paul Quinn honored the graves of the three soldiers from Temple that never returned home from World War II. But the one that continued to linger with him was the one bearing the name of his uncle, David Quinn.

Quinn’s grave is marked by a headstone, but contains no remains, as he was lost at sea – or so the family thought for decades.

“Within the family, he was pretty much revered,” said Quinn, in an interview at his Temple home. “It started tugging at me to find out more about him.”

So, Quinn began his search. He gathered photographs from his aunt, Ruth Quinn. He talked to still-living classmates of David’s from his days at Appleton Academy, and members of the family he worked for and lived with in New Ipswich. He even connected with David’s bride, whom he wedded only a few months before his death, now living in New Zealand.

He didn’t know that all his searching would eventually lead to the discovery of David’s remains, previously believed to be lost forever.

Discovering David Quinn

David was born the same year World War I ended, 1919, in Temple, in a farmhouse that still stands today.

While his siblings attended the nearby Wilton High School, David was at odds with the administration, and eventually left Wilton High School to attend Appleton Academy in New Ipswich, boarding with a local family in exchange for helping them on their farm.

At the age of 22, he traveled to Boston and joined the Marines. It was nine months later that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, launching the United States into the second World War.

Quinn was selected for training in the operation of an amphibious tractor nicknamed “alligators,” which were originally designed for search and rescue work, but became ideal for ferrying men from ships through open water, over coral reefs and into enemy territory.

After being made a first sergeant at the age of 23, David was shipped to a New Zealand command center where Marines were trained in amphibious warfare. It was there that he met Zoe Boeson, who was studying nursing. The two were wed shortly after.

The couple didn’t have long together, though.

Tarawa was an atoll of several islands, located to the north of New Zealand, and the Japanese had seized it at the outbreak of the war from the British. It served as a key airfield from which the Japanese launched their attacks.

Despite heavy fortifications and Japanese troops, the Marines were given the order to recapture the island, in a three-day battle that would leave the island with the lingering nickname “Bloody Tarawa.”

David was among those Marines. He would survive the first day. But not the second.

“Bloody Tarawa”

In November of 1943, Quinn, along with Company C, 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion, landed against harsh Japanese resistance on the island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll.

The assault on Tarawa took a heavy toll. Nearly 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed. Twice that number were wounded. 

Among them, was Quinn, who died on the second day of battle on Nov. 21.

Quinn’s Company C was among the first wave of “alligators” into the fray, storming Red Beach Two, where some of the heaviest casualties of the battle were focused. 

Troops were bombarded by Japanese fire as they approached in their alligators. David was on his feet, helping machine gunners atop the machine with their targets.

That’s the last thing known for sure.

Quinn’s research suggests David was hit, likely with a mortar round exploding near the alligator, mortally wounding him. David’s boat made it to shore that morning, with David still clinging to life, but died shortly after.

The Marines were successful in their attempt to capture Tarawa. But the bodies of many Marines were buried there. But years later, those remains were being disinterred and transported back to the United States. Including David’s. But no one would know that for years, as his identification had been lost somewhere along the way.

Finding David

Quinn knew that David’s grave, next to his parents in Temple, was empty. He didn’t think there was ever any hope of finding it. 

But among his research and finding living people that knew David, he spoke to a fellow Marine who fought in the same battle, who believed that David had been buried on Tarawa, not that he had never been recovered.

So, there was a chance his remains were sitting unidentified.

If there was a chance, Quinn wanted to take it.

As mitochondrial DNA is best matched from female relatives, Quinn asked his cousins – daughters of David’s sister – Mary Taylor and Janet Gongaju, both of Jaffrey, to submit a DNA sample to see if it could be matched to any unidentified remains from Tarawa.

It took more than five years to get the news.

“It was like a bolt from the blue,” said Quinn, about getting the call that his cousin’s DNA samples had been matched to his uncle’s remains. “It seemed with the passage of time, that it was less and less likely that he would be identified. I was becoming less and less optimistic.”

Bodies that had been recovered from Tarawa were being systematically disinterred and DNA tested. David’s remains were only disinterred in October of 2016, which is why it took so long to identify him. But now that he has been located, the Quinn family is looking to have him brought home at last.

His remains will be escorted by Marines from Hawaii to a nearby airport in May, where David’s family will be waiting to accept them for transportation for funeral services. The ride home will include passing by the Quinn farmstead for “one last trip through the old neighborhood” said Quinn. He said it’s likely that the family will hold a public memorial service in addition to the funeral. 

“The Marines, they say, ‘No man left behind,’” said Quinn. “They’re making good on that promise.”


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.