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DENVER — The remains of a decorated marine, killed in action are finally unearthed.

Now his Colorado family can give him the burial he deserves.

1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr. was killed in World War II’s Battle of Tarawa and awarded the medal of honor posthumously.

His family was told he was lost at sea and for more than 70 years his headstone has honored him above empty ground.

But that’s about to change.

“He was pretty darn fearless, everybody says that. And he was a guy who just wanted to live life big,” said his grandson, Clay Bonnyman Evans of Niwot.

For decades the Marine’s family has searched for information on where his body might be located.

“They were looking and they were wanting and they were missing. That was a long time ago,” said Bonnyman Evans.

In a letter dated 1944 the Marine’s parents wrote to the U.S. Marine Corp., appealing for the return of the remains of the beloved son.

Bonnyman Evans reads from the letter as he talks about the long search for his grandfather. “I did not have a lot of hope of my son Sandy coming back, he was always without fear,” he reads.

The letter continues, “We do want my son’s remains returned to Knoxville, Tennessee and I shall appreciate you very much giving the proper direction to my request.”

It was a day the Marine’s parents never got to see.

“They were broken-hearted,” Bonnyman Evans said.

But the broken hearts wouldn’t last forever. Armed with pick axes, shovels and brushes, archaeologist’s with History Flight, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing U.S. service members home, uncovered dozens of remains on the island of Betio.

“It was nerve wracking,” said Bonnyman Evans, who was there documenting the dig, when the remains of his grandfather were found.

“I had to recover for a minute. I had to catch my breath. I had tears in my eyes thinking about my great grandparents and my mother and all those people who had been waiting for him to come home so it was really powerful,” he said.

Buried in a trench more than 71 years ago, the Marine is finally coming home.

“And that is where he belongs,” Bonnyman Evans said.

A hero whose final resting place is no longer unknown.

1st Lt. Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Jr.’s remains will be flown to a military lab in Hawaii in July. He will be buried at the family plot in Knoxville in late September.

Bonnyman Evans is writing a book about his grandfather’s life.

“He was just this shining example of something that you would all would hope to be able to be: Courageous and brave,” he said.