Her son had already been dead a month when the telegram made it to Chadron two days before Christmas 1943.

The note from the commandant of the U.S. Marines was short, bitter.

Deeply regret to inform you that your son … was killed in action in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country.

He continued. Sgt. Fae Moore had to be buried, temporarily, where he fell. Don't aid the enemy by divulging his ship or station. And accept my heartfelt sympathy.

Mary Moore didn't know when or where her youngest son had been killed, or where he was buried. She didn't know his ship or station. She just knew she needed him home, where he belonged, in their corner of northwest Nebraska.

She responded to Lt. Gen. T. Holcomb the same day: Send my sons body back to us if possible.

And then she began the task of telling her nine surviving sons and daughters, sending more telegrams that afternoon. Just received word Fae was killed in action. Mother and Dad.

Lawrence Denton was just a few years old when his uncle died, too young to know the man.

“But I can remember being little,” he said. “And everybody crying.”

Mary Moore would be tested by another tragedy that year, and another. But she kept trying to bring her son home, even after she learned he'd died before Thanksgiving, on an island in the South Pacific smaller than most ranches in the Sandhills, and that the military had deemed her son's body unrecoverable, one of about 500 U.S. servicemen whose remains were lost in the chaos of battle.

“That was her hopes and prayers and wishes, and I heard her say it many, many times,” said Denton. “Usually, the words were: 'I wish they could bring Fae home.'”

* * *

The Beaver Valley Cemetery is 17 miles from the nearest paved road, in the hard country between Chadron, Whiteclay and Rushville.

Glenn Denton grew up on top of the cliffs overlooking the cemetery. His great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran who planted the family's first roots in the area, is buried there. So is his father, a World War II veteran.

“My dad brought me over here every Memorial Day; we'd pick wildflowers and put them on every grave.”

He served 30 years in the Marines, learned to like warmer weather and retired in California. But two years ago, he and his wife, Esther, felt the need to begin cleaning the cemetery.

They returned last summer, serious about the work. They equipped a horse trailer with tools to tame an overgrown graveyard: chain saws, weed wackers, a 350-gallon water tank, a riding mower.

They labored for two weeks, trying to get the grass under control, the dead trees and overgrown branches cleared, the flagpole replaced.

This was personal. Glenn Denton is related to roughly half of the 150 or so people buried there, and he and Esther plan to spend their eternities in the shadow of the cliffs, too.

They returned to California, not quite satisfied with their progress. But then his phone rang, two days later: 75 years after Sgt. Fae Moore had left Sheridan County, his remains had been recovered, and he was coming home to the Beaver Valley Cemetery.

“I think God had something to do with it,” Glenn Denton said.

Time to return to work. But now it was an honor, a matter of respect for a lost -- but not forgotten -- relative. They came back to Nebraska and have spent the past dozen days getting the graveyard in order. They've had help, cutting grass, cleaning graves, mending fence, leveling land.

Preparing for an overdue ceremony.

“Someone said, 'It looks almost good enough to be a cemetery in town.'”

* * *

Fae Moore was the youngest of 10 and, at 5-foot-6, dwarfed by his five older brothers.

Mary and Alonzo Moore raised him on a ranch east of Chadron in Sheridan County, and then on the Pine Ridge Reservation across the South Dakota border. Months before Pearl Harbor, the 21-year-old reported to a recruiter in Rapid City.

“The Marines are a lot tougher and stricter than the Army or Navy,” he wrote. “I don't get to leave this post for seven weeks and after that they may send me somewhere else.”

He became a member of Easy Company -- Company E, 2nd Battalion, Eighth Marines, designating a portion of his pay to be sent home to help his parents.

Then the young man was at war. He fought at Guadalcanal the year after enlisting and then was sent to New Zealand for more training.

He kept in contact with his family. When a sister sent a photo of their parents, he wrote: “You may not be able to notice it … but they look quite a bit older to me. Of course I haven’t seen them in over two years.”

In New Zealand, he proposed to a woman, Jill Hudson. And he kept going on training missions.

“They knew something was coming,” said Larry Miller, a family friend who's written extensively about Moore. “Eventually, they went out on what they thought was another training mission and they did not come back.”

Operation Galvanic hit the Tarawa Atoll early Nov. 20, 1943, and Moore stormed what was known as Red Beach on the 380-acre island of Betio, a key for allied forces, between Hawaii and Australia, but small.

“In most spots, a good ballplayer can throw a ball from ocean to ocean,” Lawrence Denton said.

Moore died early in the 76-hour battle that would kill an estimated 6,000 -- most of them Japanese but more than 1,000 Americans. Some bodies were washed to sea, many more were quickly buried in mass graves.

“My gosh, 6,000 bodies strewn around the island,” Miller said. “The way to prevent against disease and the stench was to bury all the remains.”

As the Seabees moved in to fortify the Japanese airstrip, bodies were moved, and moved again. At one point, the island held more than 40 cemeteries. Some of the fallen were honored with so-called honor graves, marked by crosses but empty beneath the soil.

In 1946, military officials moved all known U.S. remains to the central Lone Palm Cemetery but still couldn't account for nearly 500 men. A year later, those buried at Lone Palm were moved to Hawaii.

Moore's mother received another letter from the Marines. Her son's marked grave had been a broken promise. He remained lost.

I am deeply grieved that there must now be added to your sorrow this most distressing information. It is earnestly hoped that the continuing and unremitting efforts which will be made may yet lead to the location and identification of your son’s remains.

By then, Mary Moore had been through more than most. Her baby was gone. A grandson that lived with her had drowned. She'd lost her husband.

“It was a lot of grief for one woman to have to deal with,” Miller said.

But Mary Moore was determined. She wrote back to the commandant.

I will not give up.

* * *

Lawrence Denton's phone rang in suburban Denver last year, a Marine on the other end.

“He said, 'I have one question. What does the name Fae Moore mean to you?''

The military believed it had identified Moore but needed Denton to provide a DNA comparison. He swabbed his cheeks, sent in the sample and the blanks began to fill themselves in.

More than a decade ago, the founder of the nonprofit History Flight was researching a lost aircraft at Tarawa when he learned nearly half of the men killed in the battle were still missing.

“When I saw that, I almost fell out of my chair,” said Mark Noah. “And I began researching that.”

His group has searched the atoll for 10 years, uncovering the remains of more than 100 Americans, including about 35 last year beneath a parking lot.

Sgt. Fae Moore was among them.

His body was expected to land in Rapid City late Tuesday, met by Marines from Montana. It will be escorted to the border by South Dakota law enforcement and then picked up by Nebraska officers.

Near the cemetery, his flag-draped casket will be loaded on a horse-drawn wagon for the final stretch home. And this is home: As a child, he lived just about half a mile from the graves.

His brothers and sisters are all gone. But Fae Moore will be greeted at the cemetery by dozens of family members from several states, mostly grand-nieces and nephews, and as many as 200 strangers -- area veterans, Patriot Guard riders, Legion members from several posts.

And then, 75 years after he left Nebraska, Sgt. Fae Moore will be buried next to his father and his mother, who waited so long for him to come home.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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Peter Salter is a reporter.

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