John Harold Branic
Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps
Service # 250921
United States Marine Corps
Entered the Service from: New York
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Awards: Purple Heart
NEWS RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
No. 757-06 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 08, 2006
Missing WWII Marine is Identified
The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that a U.S. Marine missing in action from World War II has been identified and is being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
He is Sergeant John H. Branic, U.S. Marine Corps, of Madera, Pennsylvania. He is to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
Branic was a platoon leader for L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division on August 19, 1942, when a Japanese force overran his defensive position on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. During the attack, Branic was killed, but the Marines of L Company counterattacked and succeeded in driving the Japanese back. The location of Branic's remains was not reported to headquarters, as the L Company executive officer was also killed.
In February 1992, the U.S. Embassy, Solomon Islands, reported to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) that remains believed to be those of an American had been recovered at a construction site on Guadalcanal. JPAC took possession of those remains the following month, and excavated the site where they found additional remains. In the same general area, they found World War II-era ammunition, but no additional remains.
In 2004, an American researcher with the First Marine Division association reported to JPAC that a Solomon Islander had possession of a ring with the inscription “JHB” on the inside. The ring was found at the initial burial site. JPAC scientists and Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory specialists used mitochondrial DNA as one of the forensic tools to help identify the remains. Laboratory analysis of dental remains also confirmed the identification.
For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Web site .
25 August 2006:
He's been gone for more than 60 years, but the town of Madera has not forgotten a lost Marine who went off to war and never came home.
On August 19, 1942, Sergeant John H. Branic was a platoon leader when Japanese forces overran his position on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Branic was killed, but so was the company's executive officer, so the location of Branic's body was never reported to headquarters, according to the Department of Defense.
For decades, he was listed as missing in action.
When Madera's veteran community chartered a post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1946, they named it in his honor.
Now, thanks to a 1992 excavation project and a lot of detective work from a forensic genealogist, Branic is no longer missing in action.
On August 9, 2006, he was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, almost exactly 64 years after he died.
For Madera, a little town about 14 miles up the Moshannon Valley from Philipsburg on state Route 53, it was a surprising conclusion to a mystery long gone cold.
“I didn't think they'd ever find him,” said Frank Scrano, 87, who knew Branic as a teen. “I remember him going to school. He was a real nice fellow, very likeable.”
Scrano and Branic attended Bigler Township High School, forerunner of today's Moshannon Valley High School. “He graduated in 1934 and I graduated in 1937,” Scrano recalled.
When the war started, “my brother Fred and Nick Evanochko (Branic's cousin) and John all hitchhiked to Altoona to join the Marines,” Scrano said. “My brother failed the test because his eardrum was pierced, but Nick and John served.”
Scrano is himself a World War II vet, having served on the USS Intrepid in the South Pacific.
A photo of Branic hangs on the wall overlooking the pool table at the VFW post. The color portrait shows a young man in a Marine's dress uniform. He has dark hair, green eyes and a broad, if slightly crooked, smile.
“He was a good-looking fellow,” said Walter Haversack, post commander.
The VFW was notified in early March that the Army thought the remains of a soldier — found during an excavation for a World War II memorial in 1992 — might be Branic. The Army needed to find Branic's family to search for a mitochondrial DNA match. That meant researching the maternal family line.
Forensic genealogist Linda Abrams, working from Massachusetts, scoured Census and church records as well as period newspapers looking for clues. She called longtime Madera residents and corresponded with local funeral director Frank Kruise.
Abrams, who worked on identifying the crew of the Confederate submarine Hunley, was Branic's last hope for identification.
“Someone else had tried and failed,” she said. “It's pretty rare that I do a Marine.” It took her five weeks to crack the case.
According to the Defense Department, a high school class ring with the initials “JHB” on the inside claimed by a Solomon islander had been originally found with Branic's remains, so that helped Abrams narrow her search. She discovered that Branic's mother had not been married when he was born, which complicated the research, and that during his high school years, he was living with his maternal aunt's family in Madera.
Folks in Madera remembered that Mike and Susanna Evanochko had a big house on Main Street, Abrams said. The family had several sons and one daughter, all dead now.
Abrams found a granddaughter living in New Jersey who was able to contribute a DNA sample for the match. She also corresponded with Ben Branic, 73, of Johnstown, who is a first cousin of the Marine. Two years ago, Branic had been contacted by a Marine historian in Texas working on the case.
“They were stymied for a long time,” he said. “I'm just so grateful we got him and gave him a proper burial after all these years. It's just an amazing story.”
For the Pentagon's purposes, Branic is considered the Marine's next of kin. He made the decision to have his cousin buried at Arlington. Many members of the Branic family, now scattered away from Madera, traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the service. Branic watched the Marine pallbearers carry the coffin from the hearse to the gravesite and ceremonially present the flag to his family. Mike Long, of Muncy, past quartermaster for the Madera VFW, also attended the service.
Ben Branic, who also served in the military, doesn't remember his cousin John but knew the story of the missing Marine.
“I was too young to know him,” he said. “When he was killed, I was 10 years old.”
John Branic would be 90 today. Most of his contemporaries in Madera are long gone, but the community looks much as it did when Branic, a young man in his 20s, went off to war. The high school building is still there, as are the post office, the old hotel and several buildings on Main Street. His aunt and uncle, along with some of his cousins, are buried in the little Greek Catholic Cemetery on the hill above Madera. The cemetery is so old that some of the tombstones have inscriptions written in the Cyrillic alphabet or are marked with the three-pronged Byzantine cross.
Post Cmdr. Haversack is proud of Bigler Township's record of military service and its community of veterans. A memorial outside the VFW post holds 1,300 names of local folks who have served in the armed forces, and he'd like to put up about 700 more when he can get them inscribed on the memorial. The post has about 90 members.
“This is not just a beer joint,” he said. “This is a Veterans of Foreign Wars post.”
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard