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Remains of Ohio WWII soldier finally come home

  • Exchange-Veteran-Comes-Home

    Firefighters salute as the procession bearing the casket of the late Sgt. Harold Davis travels east on Interstate 70 to Zanesville, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 10.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Exchange-Veteran-Comes-Home-1

    The casket of the late Sgt. Harold Davis arrives at John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 10.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

ZANESVILLE, Ohio — In what his family believes was his last letter home to Zanesville, Sgt. Harold Davis wrote that his only dream was to see the United States again.

The letter, addressed to his mother and father, came from Australia. He was stationed there for a time as he fought in the Pacific theater in World War II.

“I miss you both more than anything else in this world,” the 24-year-old wrote, “and there is no place like home.”

The food was good, his letter stated. His unit was moving around quite a bit, and they were living in tents. He explained he couldn’t say as much as he wanted about the war but told his mother not to worry.

“Live by faith,” he wrote.

On Feb. 1, 1944, Davis and 10 of his comrades were killed in a plane crash on Mount Kenevi in New Guinea. The remains of the crash weren’t discovered for another 19 years. Officially, Davis was listed as missing in action, and then, a year later, killed in action.

In 1963, the crash was found but individual identification of the men wasn’t possible. So they were given a group burial at Arlington National Cemetery, and Davis’s family believed that chapter was closed.

“About three years ago, the Army called me,” said Dick Waite, Davis’s nephew, who still lives in Zanesville. “They wanted my DNA.”

Army officials had gone back to search for another plane, but instead found more of the crash that killed Davis, and, with it, more remains. With familial DNA, those remains could possibly be identified, so Waite agreed and submitted a sample.

Then the Army found a match.

“They found one rib bone,” Waite said.

Davis’s remains landed Thursday at John Glenn Columbus International Airport and were escorted home to Zanesville. He will be buried Saturday at the foot of his mother’s grave.

Everyone is invited to Davis’s funeral procession. The procession is scheduled to leave at 10 a.m. from Delong-Baker & Lanning Funeral Home located at 56 S. Fifth St. and will travel to Zanesville Memorial Park at 1475 Military Road.

Waite hopes people line the streets, waving flags. Davis has been away from Zanesville for more than 70 years. To his remaining family, and to the city, this is a celebration.

“It’s quite an honor to close this chapter,” said Carolyn Waite, Dick’s wife.

Waite remembers Davis was a ballplayer in Zanesville, though he never watched him play. While Davis worked for Mosaic Tile, he played for the Mosaic Tile Softball team and his team won the Industrial League Championship of 1941. Waite remembers playing with the toy trucks Davis left at his parents’ home.

“When I was 7 years old, he came home from leave and he took me on a ride in his Oldsmobile,” Waite said.

Davis was outgoing, he said. He was friendly. He was like his mother.

After Davis enlisted, he graduated from a government radio school and was sent to Australia in 1942 as a code telegrapher.

He was awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal (posthumous); Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Silver Service Star and one Bronze Service Star; World War II Victory Medal; Presidential Unit Citation with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster; Philippine Defense Ribbon; and Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation, according to military records.

Ken Bonnell, funeral director at Delong-Baker & Lanning, said he would also like to see the community turn out for Davis on Saturday.

Having a part in Davis’s ceremony is an honor, Bonnell said. Davis is one of the last of the greatest generation.

Reading his last letter home was a humbling experience for Bonnell. Davis never got to start a family, he said. He never got to have kids.

“It’s kind of like the guy’s speaking to you,” he said. “All he wanted to do what come home.”

At the end of his page-long letter, after he asked for more letters from his brothers and after he signed his name, Davis added another line, underlined and in quotes: “God be with us till we meet again.”

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