On April 4, 1916, John Harold Branic was born in Madera, Clearfield County in Pennsylvania. Branic enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in New York.
On August 18, 1942 Marines from L Company 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines began a combat patrol on Guadalcanal that became known as Matanikau One. The Marines probed six miles westward to the Matanikau River the Marines found that the Japanese had set up a strong defensive position at the mouth of the Matanikau River. Their mission was to cross the river upstream and attack the Japanese position at the mouth. Six days earlier on August, 12, 1942 the Divisional intelligence officer, Col Frank Goettge had lost his life and 21 men in a 25 man amphibious landing on the western side of the Matanikau River.
In the afternoon of the patrol reached a small stream that ran into the Matanikau River. They planned to bivouac and spend the night at this location and cross the river the next morning. Instead, Executive Officer 1st Lt. George H. Mead Jr., observed a ridge line on the other side of the river opposite their planned camp. He became concerned that it could threaten L/3/5’s security if the Japanese were occupying the ridge. Lt. Mead ordered the company to ford the river, climb Hill 73 and bivouac there for the night as hilltop position gave fine tactical views and the long grass provided excellent concealment.
Killed In Action
On August 19, 1942 at dawn the Japanese spotted the Marines atop Hill 73 and directed mortars and small arms fire against them. During this action Sgt John Harold Branic was hit and Killed In Action (KIA) and was buried by his company on the hilltop.
Afterwards, the Marines withdrew and proceeded with their mission, keeping to the east of a protecting ridge line out of sight from the Japanese. L/3/5 then made their way to a hill overlooking Japanese positions at the Matanikau village and made final preparations for an attack. That hill is now the site of the Catholic Church, Holy Cross. L/3/5 then engaged the Japanese in a successful attack and captured the position killing 65 Japanese. Unfortunately Lt. Mead was killed while intercepting Japanese trying to outflank the Marines. Before being ordered back across the Matanikau River and back into the Marine perimeter, L/3/5 saw and identified remains of the Goettge Patrol that had been killed seven days earlier.
During 1992, work commenced on the Guadalcanal Memorial on on Skyline Ridge atop Hill 73. While excavating the top of the hill the remains of a Marine were found and a ring with the initials "J. H. B." on the band. Afterwards, the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI) investigated the site and recovered the remains found at the site. Reportedly, the ring with initials found with the remains was held by a Solomon Islander and was not turned over. On Guadalcanal, a plaque for the unknown warrior was placed at the center of the memorial once completed.
Afterwards, the recovered remains were transported to Hawaii and stored in CILHI. Initially, the remains were unable to be identified. Historian John Innes used a sketch map of the route L/3/5 took noting the location they spent the night of August 18, 1942 and identified the feature as Hill 73, the site of the memorial. The remains found in 1992 were most likely associated with Sgt Branic. It also struck him that it seemed very appropriate that the site of the official U.S. Memorial on Guadalcanal was in fact the first hill (Hill 73) where U.S. Marines spent the night after crossing the Matanikau River.
Branic was officially declared dead on August 19, 1942 and earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. Although killed in action, his body was never recovered and he was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). He was memorialized on at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 8822 on Main Street in Madera, PA is named in honor of John H. Branic who was the first resident of Madera to be killed in World War II. At the post, a photograph of Branic is displayed at the post.
During 1992, Branic's remains were discovered and later that year transported by CILHI and stored between 1992–2006 until his remains were identified by DNA testing. On August 9, 2006 at 11:00am
Branic was permanently buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 69, site 1532.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John Harold Branic
"SGT Branic's remains have been recovered and identified. His name is permanently inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial."
Arlington National Cemetery ANC Explorer - John H. Branic (grave photos)
Sgt John Harold Branic (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt John H. Branic (photo, grave photo)
"The Department of Defense said the U.S. Embassy in the Solomon Islands reported in 1992 the possible discovery of an American soldier's remains. Officials also found World War II-era ammunition at the construction site on Guadalcanal. In 2004, an American researcher with the First Marine Division reported that a native had found a ring with Branic's initials at the burial site."
Arlington National Cemetery Website - John Harold Branic
John Innes for additional information