The following year, the wreckage of a U.S. B-17G Flying Fortress was discovered in the French-Italian Alps near the Estellette Glacier. It was determined to be Cassell’s plane but the remains were unidentifiable and the wreckage was declared non-recoverable.
More than 60 years after he was declared deceased, Cassell’s remains were finally returned to his family during a plane-side ceremony Friday at the Richmond International Airport. A day earlier, Hannah Cassell Anderson said she was taken with the news that their older brother was finally coming home.
“I was just amazed and thrilled at the same time,” said the 68-year-old Anderson, “because not only did they have his remains, but they also had his dog tags, which was just wonderful.”
Although bits and pieces of the wreckage were found shortly after the plane went missing, many parts and remains were found between 1983-99 as the glacier slid downward from its resting place at an altitude of 12,000 feet, said the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office. Two years ago, the remains were re-evaluated using advanced DNA technology, and Cassell’s DNA was determined to match that of his mother’s.
Anderson, along with her two older siblings, Franklin, 82, and Mary Lee Cassell Musulin, 80, were on hand to witness the arrival of the remains at the airport. They watched in solemn tribute as Soldiers from Fort Lee, Va., ceremoniously removed the flag-draped coffin from the commercial aircraft’s cargo storage area and carried it to a waiting hearse. They also traveled to Amelia County to do the same in preparation for a memorial service that was held Sunday.
Tech Sgt. Cassell was 21 years old when he died with his fellow airmen. An Arlington National Cemetery burial plot was dedicated to the crew years ago, but no personal items had been returned, said Anderson, who was only a few months old when her brother was drafted and departed for World War II.
Despite the declaration that her brother was deceased, Anderson said her father held a glimmer of hope that his son was still alive, especially considering the fact the no personal items were found.
“My father always thought that maybe, maybe he survived and one day would show up,” said Anderson, “because they got nothing, nothing except a telegram.”
Anderson said the identification of the remains brings an end to the years of speculation about her brother’s death.
“It does bring closure, especially for my sister and brother,” she said. “Also, because I didn’t know him and didn’t experience the grief at that time, it gives me such a good feeling that he’s home. That’s what my father and mother always wanted.”
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