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WWII soldier's remains identified, Arlington burial set

Sep. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
U.S. reinforcements wade ashore off Saipan.
U.S. reinforcements wade ashore off Saipan. (National Archives)
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The remains of a soldier reported missing in action on Saipan 70 years ago will be buried Sept. 12 at Arlington National Cemetery after Defense Department scientists confirmed his identity, according to a DoD news release.

Pfc. Bernard Gavrin, of Brooklyn, New York, served with 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division, which suffered more than 900 casualties, many caused by Japanese suicide attacks, during intense fighting on Saipan that began in June 1944. Gavrin was reported missing in action July 7, according to the DoD release; his status, and that of 21 fellow missing soldiers from the 105th, was changed to dead a year later.

His remains were listed as “nonrecoverable” by the American Graves Registration Service in 1948, but in 2013, a Japanese group seeking remains of Japanese soldiers found three dog tags belonging to U.S. servicemen while excavating mass graves in the caves of Saipan, according to a report in the (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) Sun-Sentinel.

One tag included Gavrin’s next of kin and his Brooklyn address, the newspaper reported. After the discovery, Army officials told Gavrin’s nephew that his uncle had earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other honors, during an Army career that began before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Scientists with Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Library authenticated Gavrin’s remains using “circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools including dental comparisons and mitochondrial DNA, which matched Gavrin’s cousin,” according to the DoD release.

In recent years, excavations on Saipan by a Japanese nonprofit group have turned up the remains of American and Japanese soldiers.

Last year, the group found remains and personal items of some American soldiers, which were turned over to the American government. Testing using a family member’s DNA confirmed Gavrin was among them.

His 82-year-old nephew David Rogers, of Delray Beach, Florida, said he was planning to be at the burial on Sept. 12. He said it was “absolutely incredible and unbelievable to all of us” that Gavrin would be laid to rest in “the most honorable place you could be buried in this country.”

Rogers, whose mother was Gavrin’s sister, said Gavrin was the youngest of three children and had enlisted in 1940. He said the last time he saw his uncle was when he was 8 years old and his uncle came to visit.

Rogers had injured himself, requiring stitches, and Gavrin went to his bedroom.

“He awakened me and kissed me on the forehead,” Rogers recalled.

Gavrin’s loss was shattering, Rogers said. When the telegram came and Gavrin’s mother, Rogers’ grandmother, opened it, “She let out a scream that lives with me to this day,” he said.

The remains of another soldier, Pfc. Richard L. Bean of Manasass, Virginia, also were identified. Memorial plans for Bean were not announced.

The remains of Pvt. William Yawney of Freemansburg, Pennsylvania, were found in 2011, just yards away from the 2013 excavation. He was laid to rest in a church cemetery in Northampton, Pennsylvania last May.

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