NORTHFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) – The funeral and burial of Marine Pfc. John Albert Donovan had all the pomp and circumstance of services held across the U.S. for military members killed overseas during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The 21-year-old’s flag-draped casket was solemnly carried in and out of the church by a Marine honor guard, and the flag was meticulously folded and presented to his sister at a graveside ceremony.
The difference, however, was that Donovan wasn’t being laid to rest days or weeks after his death.
His passing came almost 70 years ago.
Donovan, who was declared dead in April 1945, was mourned Friday mostly by family members who never knew him.
The only exception was his lone surviving sibling, 82-year-old Josephine “Dody” Demianenko, who flew from Florida to Michigan to attend the funeral and burial in a rural area of southeastern Michigan, not far from Ann Arbor and Donovan’s hometown of Plymouth.
Donovan, an aerial radio operator, and six other crew members were aboard a Marine Corps PBJ-1 bomber on a mission near the island of Espiritu Santo in the South Pacific when it went missing in 1944. The plane was presumed lost at sea, but it was found in 1994 by a privately funded mission scouring a rugged, remote area of the island for the wreckage of another plane.
Some remains were recovered then, and others were recovered in trips that continued until 2011. The remains were identified this year after family members provided DNA samples for comparison, the military said.
Some of Donovan’s remains were buried Friday in a family plot at Old St. Patrick Cemetery in Northfield Township, and Donovan’s nephew, Tim, said other remains will be buried with the other crew members at Arlington National Cemetery in October.
After offering some welcoming remarks during the funeral Mass, Tim Donovan looked down at the casket from his position behind the lectern, and his voice breaking, said: “Welcome home, Uncle Bert.”
“This is closure. It’s something that’s long overdue,” Tim Donovan said after the burial. He described recent events involving his uncle as both a “roller coaster” and a “miracle.”
Although Demianenko didn’t speak publicly during the services, the priest who officiated shared her memories of her brother as a kind yet reserved young man who earned A’s in school.
The photo on the cover of the funeral service program depicted a youthful-looking Donovan in his dress uniform.
“It’s just bittersweet. It’s bitter because my dad and my grandmother weren’t here to experience this,” Tim Donovan said. “However, he’s at home, and he’s with his family.”
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)