Soldier's body, presumed unknown since WWII, returned to Dundalk

Robert Bayne disappeared near Mannheim, Germany in 1945; body was identified this year

May 03, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Calvin and Kenneth Bayne stood silently among Army officers, watching their brother's remains transferred from a plane to a waiting hearse. Kenneth kept his hand on his heart. Calvin saluted and then walked directly to the flag-draped casket and kissed it.

The somber ceremony on a tarmac at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport offered the two men the first tangible contact with their older brother in more than 66 years. Pfc. Robert B. Bayne went missing in action in 1945 as he fought along the Rhine River near Mannheim, Germany. The Army officially identified his body in March of this year, largely spurred by the constant urging of the 83-year-old fraternal twins who were teens when the man they called "Buddy" enlisted.

The Army had imposed tight security restrictions for the transfer and asked family members to remain in place. Only Calvin Bayne, ever the feistier brother, broke ranks. He moved briskly from cluster of soldiers and approached the hearse.

"I had to kiss the casket," he said after the ceremony. "Nothing was going to stop me."

DNA taken from each brother helped Army researchers identify Robert Bayne's remains, which had been unidentified at the end of the war and buried in St. Avold Cemetery in northern France.

The brothers, who live in Dundalk near their boyhood home, are making plans for a funeral Mass on Saturday at their parish church and a graveside service with military honors at the family plot.

"We are not done yet," Kenneth Bayne said. "When we lay him to rest Saturday, he will really be home with us."

Robert Bayne enlisted in 1944 and served in the infantry. At 26, he volunteered for a risky mission crossing the Rhine. Three of the four American soldiers on that March 1945 mission were killed, but only two bodies were identified at the end of the war. The Army relied on dental records to identify the third soldier, but because of an error that went undetected for years, those X-rays did not match the ones taken from Bayne at his induction.

After meeting decades ago with the lone survivor of that mission, the Baynes became convinced that the unknown soldier buried in France was their brother. Army officials repeatedly denied their requests for further testing, but the brothers persisted. Ken Bayne has kept detailed records of every conversation and every correspondence related to Robert, whose status was changed to "killed in action" in 1946. 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.

DNA research finally confirmed their beliefs after both men submitted samples in 2008. Last summer, the Army disinterred the remains and transported them to a lab in Hawaii for testing.

When the casket arrived Tuesday aboard a commercial flight, dozens of travelers awaiting their own departures paused to watch the brief ceremony. Many asked airport staff what was happening. Word that a soldier was coming home after 66 years spread quickly and a somber crowd at the windows overlooking the arrival grew to three people deep.

"Now it's 'Leave no one behind,' but in World War II, it could not always be that way," said Kimber Cole of Bethesda. "It is an honor for me to stand and watch."

Greg Nettesheim, waiting for a flight home to Wisconsin, snapped photos through the glass panes.

"This is so great that the Army has not given up on identifying its soldiers," he said.

Janet Laird of Fort Myers, Fla., was en route to Dublin, Ireland. She, too, shot photos.

"These will be the saddest — yet happiest — pictures of my trip," she said. "This soldier surely deserves to be home."

Bob Feenick, 86, a World War II veteran of the Army Air Forces and a resident of Barnegat Light, N.J., said, "This is heart-wrenching and really something. I lost a lot of friends in the war and often think of them. I hope they have all come home to their families."

For his service, Robert Bayne was awarded a Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the European Medal with three battle stars. All are carefully preserved, as are his many penciled letters and the photo of a smiling young man in uniform that his brothers carried to the airport.

"There are thousands more of these soldiers to bring home," Calvin Bayne said. "Our brother is home now, in Dundalk, where he belongs."

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