This is how the remains of a WWII hero made it home after 75 years

A New York military aviation researcher got more than she bargained for on a dream trip to a battle-scarred South Pacific island — the chance to help solve the mystery of an American soldier listed as missing in action from World War II.

Donna Esposito, who works at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in upstate Glenville, visited Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands this spring and was approached by a local man who knew of WWII dog tags and bones found along a nearby jungle trail. The man asked if Esposito could help find relatives of the man named on the tags: Pfc. Dale W. Ross.

After she returned home, Esposito found that Ross had nieces and nephews still living in Ashland, Oregon. A niece and a nephew accompanied Esposito on her late July return to Guadalcanal, where they were given his dog tags and a bag containing the skeletal remains.

Marines rest in this field during the Guadalcanal campaign. Photo under Public Domain.

Marines rest in this field during the Guadalcanal campaign. (Photo under Public Domain.)

Although it’s not certain yet the remains are the missing soldier’s, the nephew who made the Guadalcanal trip is confident they will be a match.

“It’s Uncle Dale. I have no doubt,” said Dale W. Ross, who was named after his relative.

The elder Ross, a North Dakota native whose family moved to southern Oregon, was the third of four brothers who fought in WWII. Assigned to the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, he was listed as MIA in January 1943, during the final weeks of the Guadalcanal campaign. He was last seen in an area that saw heavy fighting around a Japanese-held hilltop.

When the Japanese evacuated Guadalcanal three weeks later, it was the first major land victory in the Allies’ island-hopping campaign in the Pacific.

Members from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency transfer a case of unidentified remains believed to be military personnel onto a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane to be transferred to Oahu from the Solomon Islands, Aug. 9, 2017. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.

Members from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency transfer a case of unidentified remains believed to be military personnel onto a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane to be transferred to Oahu from the Solomon Islands, Aug. 9, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle.)

Ross’ relatives handed the remains — about four dozen bones, including rib bones — to a team from the Pentagon agency that identifies American MIAs found on foreign battlefields. On August 7, the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Guadalcanal, an American honor guard carried a flag-draped coffin containing the bones onto a US Coast Guard aircraft.

The Pentagon said the remains were taken to Hawaii for DNA testing.

“Until a complete and thorough analysis of the remains is done by our lab, we are unable to comment on the specific case associated to the turnover,” said Maj. Jessie Romero of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

The other three Ross brothers made it back home, including the oldest, Charles, who served aboard a Navy PT boat in the Solomons and visited Guadalcanal in the vain attempt to learn about his brother Dale’s fate.

Gen. Robert B. Neller lays a wreath during the 75th Anniversary of the Battle for Guadalcanal ceremony. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Gen. Robert B. Neller lays a wreath during the 75th Anniversary of the Battle for Guadalcanal ceremony. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.)

Ross’ niece and nephew made their trip last month with Esposito and Justin Taylan, founder of Pacific Wrecks, a New York-based nonprofit involved in the search for American MIAs from WWII. They met the family whose 8-year-old son found the dog tags and remains. They also were taken to the spot on a slope in the jungle where the discovery was made.

“I never met this man, but I was a little emotional,” Ross, 71, said of the experience.

For Esposito, 45, finding evidence that could solve a lingering mystery in an American family’s military history is the most meaningful thing she’s ever done in her life.

“I can’t believe this has all happened,” she said. “It has been an amazing journey.”

TOP ARTICLES
How the 65-year old B-52 Stratofortress just keeps getting better with age

When you add modern computers and tinker with the bomb bay, it turns out the the B-52 can kill more targets.

This Swedish fighter was decades ahead of its time

Its best-known combat was in the service of a fictional drug cartel in the movie "Fire Birds." But in the Cold War, the Draken was truly ahead of its time.

This is how Hanoi reacted to the epic Ken Burns 'Vietnam War' documentary series

Ken Burns' "Vietnam War" was released to relatively little noise in Vietnam. Here's a look at what audiences there had to say.

7 epic songs that prove 'Call of Duty' knows how to lay down tracks

Video game music has improved a lot since 8-bit days. A lot.

The Army is looking for ways to keep generals from misbehaving

Struggling with behavior problems among senior officers, the Army is putting together new mental health, counseling, and career management programs.

These are the heroics that earned this EOD Petty Officer a Silver Star

Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Bill Moran, recognized EOD 1st Class Thomas for his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy.

This why the national anthem is played before sporting events

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that the "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played at all military ceremonies and other various occasions.

The Navy wants this drone to extend its fighter range beyond 1k miles

The Navy is exploring how to use unmanned aircraft to extend the range of fighter jets by 1,000 miles. The concept, at this time, is called the MQ-25 Stingray.

How the Pentagon plans to spend $700M to drop drones

ISIS has been using drones to drop bombs on Iraq Security Forces, and the Department of Defense is looking for a better defense against them.

The third Invictus Games just kicked off in Toronto — and it's awesome

Competitors, celebrities, royalty, and spectators came together Sept. 23 to kick off the 2017 Invictus Games at the sold-out Air Canada Centre.

THE MIGHTY SURVEY GIVE-AWAY

We want to hear your thoughts. Complete our survey for a chance to win 1 of 5 gaming consoles

COMPLETE SURVEY TO WIN