WASHINGTON - The remains of a Minnesota Marine are on the way back to his family sixty-six years after he died in a WW II-era plane crash.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced Thursday that the remains of Marine Corps Cpl. Wayne R. Erickson of Minneapolis have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
The 19-year-old Erickson was a crewmember aboard a PBJ-1 aircraft that failed to return from a night training mission over the island of Espiritu Santo, in what is known today as Vanuatu.
None of the crew was recovered and in 1945 they were officially presumed deceased.
In 1994 aircraft wreckage was discovered on the island of Espiritu Santo. Human remains were recovered from the site at that time and turned over to the Department of Defense.
A survey team traveled to the site in 1999. They found the wreckage at an elevation of 2,600 ft. in extremely rugged terrain, and determined that recovery teams would need specialized mountain training to complete a recovery mission.
One year later a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) team visited the site and recovered human remains. Crews went back from 2009 to 2011 to further excavate the site and recover additional remains, aircraft parts and military equipment.
Scientists and analysts identified Erickson's remains using circumstantial evidence, dental records and mitochondrial DNA, which matched that of Erickson's niece.
He will be buried May 24 in Fort Worth, Texas with full military honors.
More than 400,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II perished during the conflict. At the end of the war, the U.S. government was unable to recover, identify and bury approximately 79,000 as known persons.
Today, more than 73,000 Americans remain unaccounted-for from the conflict.
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