Helen McGowan said she can still remember the tears on faces in the crowd in 1946 when she attended a memorial Mass for her cousin Joseph J. Auld, declared dead two years after he went missing in Burma during World War II.
Six decades later, the Floral Park boy McGowan called "Joey" made her cry again.
Auld and six other U.S. Army airmen whose cargo plane crashed in the mountains of present-day Myanmar on May 23, 1944, were buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday. Auld, a graduate of Sewanhaka High School, was a recently married 25-year-old lieutenant at the time of the crash.
Federal Department of Defense officials used DNA and dental records to identify the remains of Auld and another crewman last year, and military records confirmed the other five men were in the plane, officials said.
McGowan, 88, of Stony Brook, one of few surviving relatives who knew Auld, choked back tears outside the cemetery as she talked about how Thursday's service "put it all to rest" for Auld's extended family - two dozen of whom attended the burial just outside Washington, D.C.
"We always had hopes that Joe would find his way out of the jungle, and we always kept those hopes and prayers alive," said McGowan, widow of Auld's cousin Howard McGowan. "Today was a marvelous day."
A missionary in Myanmar, formerly Burma, found the crash site almost 60 years after the plane went down, allowing Defense Department officials to begin the time-consuming process of identifying the remains.
One of Auld's cousins, Virginia Doolittle of New Jersey, provided a sample of her DNA that enabled scientists to identify Auld through tests on six teeth and three small bones found in the wreckage. Doolittle attended Thursday's ceremony and received a folded American flag from an Army chaplain.
"We were told we would never find him, that it would only be by chance," she said. "It has been a family legend for years."
The ceremony included a military flyover and rifle salute. Members of the other airmen's families attended the burial, which was preceded by a private memorial service.
Patrice McGowan of Massapequa, Helen's daughter, said she was moved when Army Capt. Gino Hernandez, a chaplain, said the seven "had served for 66 years overseas and now they are finally home."
The Army held the ceremony and burial of the seven men at Arlington National Cemetery because it "is our nation's most dignified way of paying its final respects to those who have served in the military," said Kaitlin Horst, a spokeswoman for the cemetery. Two coffins were buried, one with Auld's remains and another with the remains of the group.
Helen McGowan said it was good to finally have Joey home again. "It's a very good thing that we have him and we know where he is."
- NUMBER BURIED More than 300,000