Fraternal twins Calvin, left, and Kenneth Bayne, 81, show medals… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
A gray headstone marks the Bayne family plot in a Baltimore cemetery. Etched in the polished granite are the names of a mother, a father and their eldest son, a soldier lost in World War II.
But the remains of Pfc. Robert B. Bayne are interred far from his parents, most likely in an unknown soldier's grave in St. Avold, France. On this Veterans Day, his surviving brothers, 81-year-old twins Kenneth H. and Calvin C. Bayne, remain determined to bring the sibling they called Buddy home from the war that claimed his life in 1945.
"All we want is his remains," Calvin Bayne said.
"We have been waiting 64 years," added Kenneth Bayne.
While the Department of Defense and modern technology have made great strides in identifying war dead, the process is painstakingly slow for many families like the Baynes. Investigators trying to assist surviving families are working nearly 90,000 cases. The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office is looking into the Baynes' case, but have told the brothers it could be another year before they make a determination about whether to disinter what the Baynes both believe are the remains of their brother.
The brothers have pieced together the story of Buddy's last mission from their own research and accounts from the lone soldier who survived it and visited them after the war.
In April 1945, a year after Buddy had left home, the 26-year-old infantryman and three others volunteered for a risky mission to cross the Rhine River near Mannheim, Germany. A cabdriver delivered a telegram to the family's Dundalk home notifying them that Buddy was declared missing in action after the battle.
That Buddy volunteered for a dangerous crossing in a rubber boat did not surprise his brothers. Even though as the sole support of his family he was entitled to a deferment, he volunteered for military service.
"During the war, he said he felt embarrassed to be walking the streets," Ken Bayne said. "He asked Mom to sign a waiver and let him go in the service. He had a bad leg, but the infantry still took him."
For his efforts in combat, Robert Bayne was awarded a Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the European Medal with three battle stars. All are as carefully preserved as his many penciled letters and the photo of a smiling young man in uniform.
For awhile after that fateful telegram, the family imagined all manner of possibilities. Even after the Army changed his status to killed in action in 1946, they wondered if Buddy had survived the river sortie. He was a former lifeguard and a good swimmer. Or maybe he was taken prisoner. Every time word reached them of remains found, they would make the calls or trek to Washington.
The family long ago accepted that their brother had died in 1945, but they never gave up hope of finding his remains. From Army records, they learned that the Germans buried the three soldiers who died on that mission together along the Rhine River in Germany. After the war, the Army's mortuary team recovered the bodies and identified two of them but not their brother. The third, whose dental records did not match those taken from Bayne at his induction, was declared unknown and buried in St. Avold in northern France. The brothers know the exact plot: 000, row 6, grave 70. They are certain it is Buddy's grave.
"There is no big mystery here," Ken Bayne said. "Four men got in that boat to cross the Rhine. Halfway across, the Germans opened fire. Three were killed and only one came back alive, and we got to talk to him years ago."
Ken Bayne joined the Army in 1948 when the recruiter assured him that he would be sent to Germany. He planned to search for information about Buddy in Europe, but those plans were thwarted, when he never left the U.S.
A retired computer operator, he keeps detailed records of every conversation and every correspondence related to his brother. He has documentation from 1949, when the Army said it had insufficient evidence to establish an identification, and from 1957, when the Army denied one last request to review the case.
"We bugged the Army for years, but never got anything back," Ken Bayne said.
Now DNA research has sparked new hope, he said. About 18 months ago, Ken Bayne saw a television program detailing the Army's efforts to recover the remains of its fallen soldiers and decided to renew efforts. He and Calvin both submitted DNA in July 2008 and gave investigators all their research, hoping the Army could match their samples to those of the unknown soldier in grave 70. Dental records helped investigators identify remains decades ago, but are less reliable than the DNA research done today. And further investigation by the Army has shown that Private Bayne's dental records may have been misplaced or lost after his induction, bringing the initial efforts to match them with the third soldier into question.