Gravil had been listed as missing since 1943, when his B-24 Liberator bomber was shot down over Romania. His unidentified remains were first buried there and later moved to a military cemetery in Belgium, where he lay alongside other missing soldiers for decades.
As part of a long-standing effort to identify the remains of lost American soldiers, July’s Gravlin’s remains were identified by DNA analysis on July 12, according to the Federal Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
“I feel like it’s done,” Gravlin’s great-niece, Susan White, said in an interview. “I’m glad. He’s finally home.”
For White, the funeral service marks the end of her family’s long search for answers. “My dad, my dad’s mom, they were always trying and searching to get answers,” said White, 58.
Gravlin served in the US Army Air Force during World War II and was assigned to the 343rd Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bomb Group, Ninth Air Force, according to the DPAA. As a gunner and gunner of a B-24D nicknamed “Four Eyes,” 21-year-old Gravlin took part in Operation Tidal Wave on August 1, 1943, a massive bombing raid on Romanian oil refineries fueling the Nazi German war effort.
“Four Eyes” was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed, the DPAA said. According to Honor States, a nonprofit organization that documents American war casualties, none of the 10 crew members survived; Gravlin’s crew joined over 200 airmen lost in the raid that would become known as “Black Sunday”.
As part of government efforts to identify the remains of lost soldiers, White asked Gravlin’s nephew, her uncle Terry Worcester, to provide investigators with DNA samples.
In July, White received a call from investigators that Worcester’s DNA showed a “nearly 100 percent” match. “[They] One day she called me out of the blue and said, ‘We found your uncle,'” she said. “I fell off my chair. I was just shocked.”
White said her search for answers was for both her late father and Zellwood.
“My father was interested,” she said. “He checked in at least once or twice a year to see if there was any news. And my dad made me promise that I would keep going.”
She recalls her father’s story of how the news of Zellwood’s loss affected the family.
“My great-grandmother didn’t really believe he was dead until she got his stuff from the army,” she said. “They sent all his personal belongings over and happened to have a letter addressed to her – because they were texting back and forth all the time – and when she got it back there was no postage on it. That’s when she knew he was gone.”
Worcester said Zelwood’s death was not discussed in the Gravlin household. Growing up, there was only one reminder of his uncle’s absence: an 8×10 portrait of a man in uniform on Ida Gravlin’s living room wall.
“It was probably more difficult for my grandmother [than it was for us as grandchildren], being her son and everything,” said Worcester, now 75. “It was something that was never talked about or talked about in the family. Those were different times.”
Ida Gravlin will finally be reunited with her son on Saturday when he is buried next to her in Avon’s Mile Square Cemetery. Several active members of Gravlin’s old squadron will be arriving for duty from their base in Louisiana. Members of the Maine National Guard will participate. Governor. Janet Mills recorded a video message thanking Gravlin for his sacrifice.
“I feel great for my great-grandmother [Ida]’ said White. “I’m sure she’s looking down, my dad is looking down at all of this and saying ‘thank you.'”