70 years on, missing private comes home

70 years on, missing private comes home

Sgt. Jason Lewis, a representative of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry regiment, presents a flag to David Rogers, the nephew of Pfc. Bernard Gavrin, who died in Saipan in 1944 and was buried on September 12, 70 years later, in Arlington National Cemetery. Ron Kampeas/JTA

ARLINGTON, Va. – The scene at Arlington National Cemetery last Friday was not quite routine, but nor was it unusual: A clergyman said a prayer, an army NCO handed Bernard Gavrin’s closest living relative a folded U.S. flag, and a volunteer – one of the “Arlington Ladies” who attend to the needs of grieving military families – offered words of comfort.

Mr. Gavrin stood out for two reasons: The clergyman, Marvin Bash, was a rabbi, and David Rogers, Mr. Gavrin’s nephew, who received the flag, last saw his uncle more than 70 years ago in Brooklyn, when he kissed him goodnight.

Mr. Gavrin, a U.S. Army private first class, was part of an invasion force in the Pacific island of Saipan, then occupied by Japan, in June 1944. The Japanese subjected the forces to suicide attacks, killing and injuring more than 900 U.S. soldiers. But Mr. Gavrin’s remains were only found recently in Saipan. Then they were returned stateside.

“I was 8 years old, living in an apartment with my parents,” Mr. Rogers, 82, said in a phone interview from Delray Beach, Fla., where he lives. “I had had a playground accident and went to bed early. He came into my room and kissed me on my forehead.”

Not long after, Mr. Gavrin enlisted. Mr. Rogers’ next memory of his uncle – his mother’s younger brother – came four years later, in the summer of 1944.

“I was 12, and I was living in the same house my grandmother lived in when a telegram came telling her that her son was missing in action,” Mr. Rogers said. “She let out a scream I can remember to this day.”

Mr. Gavrin was 29.

When he was declared presumed dead a year later, his family hung a gold star on the window.

“In November 1948, the American Graves Registration Services reviewed the circumstances of Mr. Gavrin’s loss and concluded his remains were non-recoverable,” the Pentagon said in a September 10 release outlining the events leading to the recovery of Mr. Gavrin’s remains.

It wasn’t until September 2013, when Japanese researchers scouring Saipan, which is now a U.S. territory, looking for the remains of Japanese troops, uncovered a grave with the remains of four U.S. soldiers, including a bone, a shoe and a dog tag belonging to Mr. Gavrin. They turned over the remains to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

U.S. officials tracked down Mr. Gavrin’s two cousins, who lived in the Washington, D.C., area, and referred them to Mr. Rogers, who also had lived in suburban Maryland and worked in the garment trade there for years. As the son of Mr. Gavrin’s sister, he was the likeliest to be a DNA match.

In May, Mr. Rogers, himself a Korean War veteran, got the news: He was a match. The Pentagon asked the family where they wanted to bury Mr. Gavrin, and they opted for Arlington.

So early Friday afternoon, under a cloud-dappled blue sky and with a light breeze caressing Arlington’s trimmed lawns, Mr. Gavrin was buried with full military honors. Rabbi Bash, a retired northern Virginia congregational rabbi, delivered a short service, starting “Today, we go back in time.”

For the Kaddish, several members of Mr. Gavrin’s extended family – about 40 attended the service – joined in, and the rhythmic Aramaic incantations of the memorial prayer rose above the breeze and the murmur of distant traffic.

Three volleys were fired. A casket team folded the flag, and Sgt. Jason Lewis, a representative of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry regiment, knelt and presented it to Mr. Rogers. The U.S. Army band, Pershing’s Own, twice played “Yigdal Elohim Chai” while the casket team brought the casket graveside and then it played “America the Beautiful” as the team folded the flag. A bugler sounded taps.

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered flags on state government buildings to fly at half mast in Mr. Gavrin’s memory.

“After far too many years, he has returned home and has been granted a proper burial alongside the many other heroes who answered the call,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Mr. Rogers said his family has found peace in the burial.

“All that was buried was a bone and a shoe, but I could not be more satisfied. There are 73,000 who are still lying in far-off lands who have not been identified,” Mr. Rogers said, referring to the official figure of 73,536 U.S. missing from World War II. “To be lost and then to have his remains recovered is astonishing – and to be buried in hallowed ground.”

JTA Wire Service

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