Family celebrates long-delayed homecoming for hero

Dundalk man buried 66 years after WWII death in Germany

May 07, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

The Bayne family has held two funerals for their World War II soldier who lost his life 66 years ago in a skirmish on the German side of the Rhine.

The first, in 1946, marked the death of Army Private First Class Robert B. Bayne, who perished in combat at age 26.

During a second ceremony Saturday, three generations of survivors celebrated his true homecoming.

Mourners filled the pews at St. Rita's Catholic Church in Dundalk, near the boyhood home of Bayne, who enlisted in the Army in 1944 and was killed in action a year later.

"We are gathered here again to pay tribute to a special young man, who sacrificed his life for the country he loved and for his brothers and sisters," said Monsignor Richard Parks. "Robert is a son of this parish and a hero who set an example for each of us."

That the soldier has returned home to Dundalk, where he spent nearly all his life, is due largely to the efforts of younger brothers Calvin and Kenneth Bayne. The fraternal twins, now 83, were teenagers when they last saw the brother they called Buddy, the man who led their Boy Scout troop and taught them to fish and swim.

The infantryman volunteered for the risky mission crossing the Rhine in March 1945. Three of the four American soldiers on that foray were killed, but only two bodies were identified at the end of the war.

Dental records from the third body did not match those that the Army had taken from Bayne at his induction. So the remains were classified unknown and interred in an unmarked soldier's grave in northern France.

The lone survivor of the mission met with the Bayne family after the war and gave an account that convinced the twins that their brother's gravesite was in a French military cemetery.

For all these decades after the war, the brothers never dropped their efforts to bring Buddy home. DNA samples taken from each twin three years ago helped Army researchers make a positive match with the third set of remains.

"Ours is the story of a family who would not give up hope," said Joyce David, Kenneth's daughter. "I have known Uncle Buddy all my life, even though he died long before I was born."

In her eulogy, David spoke of her grandmother, who wrote to the Army for years asking for information about her oldest son, only to be told there could be no positive identification. And David recalled the promise she made her own father that she would continue his efforts.

Bayne's well-preserved dress uniform, his smiling photo and the family Bible were on the altar during the funeral Mass. An Army sergeant bearing the American flag escorted Bayne's great-nephew Bart David as he carried an urn holding his uncle's ashes up the aisle.

Bart David, 28, has also heard the story of the lost war hero throughout his life.

As he looked around the church, he recognized only a few faces, but he said he was grateful so many had come to pay homage.

"There are not many of my generation, but I am glad so many realized how important it is to be here," he said.

Parks asked the members of the entire congregation to extend their arms in a final blessing of the remains. The prayer began with "May the angels lead you into paradise."

A long line of vehicles carrying mourners drove through Dundalk to the family plat at Oak Lawn Cemetery. The local fire company stationed a truck at the entrance to the gravesite and hung a flag from the raised ladders. Several uniformed firefighters stood at attention. The Army guard offered full military honors, including a gun salute, taps and the presentation of the flag.

Bayne's remains are now interred beneath a stone etched long ago with his name.

"Today he is really home with us," Kenneth Bayne said.

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