Leaving no soldier behind: US Marine who died in WWII returns home
HINSDALE — U.S. Marine Private First Class George Traver was killed on Nov. 20, 1943 while storming Betio Island during World War II.
He was 25 years old.
Now, nearly 73 years later, he will return home to Chatham, N.Y., to rejoin his family in their burial plot.
"He's going to be laying at his mother's feet," said his niece, Pauline Wheeler, of Hinsdale.
A childhood keepsake helped bring him home.
Traver's remains were recovered last November from where they were buried along with about 40 other Marines, also killed in action during the assault.
The recovery efforts were conducted by the Florida-based group History Flight, a nonprofit organization which finds and recovers the remains of American service members killed in action overseas.
Traver was identified in February through dental records and from the Boy Scout pocket knife he had been carrying with him into battle.
According to Wheeler, the knife was among a list of personal items Traver requested be sent to him.
"He asked for a few things to carry with him while he was away," Wheeler said.
The knife was found in a box along with some other items buried with Traver's body, she said.
"This whole thing is absolutely amazing," she said.
Wheeler was almost six-years-old when her uncle was killed, but still has a few vivid memories of him.
She remembers visiting her grandmother with her sister, going fishing and taking turns riding on her uncle's shoulders, made all the more memorable due to his height.
"He was a big boy," Wheeler said.
Wheeler said she still keeps a photo of Traver on her refrigerator and remarked on the stunning resemblance between him and her mother.
She said Traver's remains were found mostly intact, wrapped in a poncho and buried with the box of his personal effects.
Another niece living in Hinsdale, Kathy DiOrio, never got to meet her uncle, but remembers gathering at her grandmother's house in Chatham for the Memorial Day parade which passed by the house.
DiOrio said her grandmother rode in the car with other Gold Star mothers, who had lost children in battle.
"When I was a kid, you quieted down and waited (for the car to pass). I didn't even know what it meant," she said.
Wheeler said the efforts to bring Traver's body home were spurred by her cousin, David Silliman, of Chatham, who conducted research, contacted History Flight and worked for years to locate Traver's remains.
Silliman, 63, also never got to meet his uncle, who was killed nine years before he was born.
He said Traver's funeral service, planned for Sunday, will provide some closure for the family and will be a happy occasion.
"He'll be home," he said.
Wheeler said she's been amazed by the response from the community, including local Boy Scouts and other volunteers who helped landscape the Chatham Rural Cemetery, where he will buried with full military honors.
DiOrio said the funeral may hold meaning to others outside of her family.
"It's not just for us," she said. "It's for everyone who's lost someone."
DiOrio said some representatives from History Flight are expected to attend this weekend's services.
"I can't wait to meet them," she said. "After all this time, it's just so cool."
Traver's body is expected to arrive at Albany International Airport from a Hawaii military lab on August 26, with calling hours to be held at the French, Gifford, Preiter & Blasi Funeral Home in Chatham the following day from 3 to 7 p.m.
A religious service will be held at the St. James Catholic Church at 2 p.m., followed by the burial.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
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