Only a miracle can do that.
Our family was lucky enough to receive that miracle this week in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Second Lt. Lynn Wilson Hadfield, my great-uncle who was killed in World War II, is finally home.
Uncle Lynn was piloting an A-26B invader plane over Europe on March 21, 1945, when he was shot down by the enemy. Through the generations, that was really all we knew. But those just aren't enough details for a grieving family -- particularly for the children he left behind, a toddler and a baby who would never have the privilege of knowing their father.
My cousin, Mary Ann Hadfield Turner, was that toddler and is now the only surviving member of Uncle Lynn's immediate family. Just 2 years old when her dad was killed, Mary Ann holds no memory of him. She has photos of herself in his arms and has carried "a haunting and aching emptiness" with her through the decades.
Today, the mystery of his death, the acceptance of the unknown and the great emptiness are things of the past.
A hero and his bomber vanish
On March 21, 1945, during his first combat mission, Lynn was piloting an A-26B invader from Couvron, France to Dülmen, Germany. Intending to obstruct German troop movements
ahead of the Allied troops crossing the Rhine River, the squadron encountered enemy anti-aircraft fire.
Uncle Lynn, as he was known to me, has been a constant presence throughout my life. Lynn's little sister was my grandmother, Carol Hadfield Robertson, who just idolized her big brother. Photos of Lynn hung on the walls at Grammy's house, and stories of their childhood were shared freely and often.
A crash site yields priceless proof
In June 2016, researcher Adolph Hagedorn found a crash site in a horse paddock in Hülsten-Reken, Germany, and reached out to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
, or DPAA. The property owners had planned to develop the land but agreed to delay while the area was excavated.
To expedite the recovery, the DPPA partnered with History Flight
, a nonprofit that recovers and repatriates American war dead. The excavation took place in November and December of 2016. Because the ground was frozen, dome tents with heaters were placed to thaw the earth before archaeologists could proceed.
It took more than two years from the time the crash site was found until positive identification.
"The wreckage was found in 2016. We have been holding our breath since then," Mary Ann, Uncle Lynn's daughter, said of the wait, which had by then stretched on for four generations.
In addition to human remains, the History Flight archaeologists gently and meticulously recovered identifying pieces of the plane and even some personal items. Among those artifacts were Uncle Lynn's flight wings, an identification tag and a gold pen cap engraved with his name -- all about 4 feet below the surface.