Fallen but Never Forgotten
There were about 65 boys at St. Joseph's in the 1930s, but for reasons of privacy the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington will not identify anyone who might have known Jack Dyer. Many St. Joseph's students went on to Gonzaga College High School, but Gonzaga has no record of Dyer attending.
Dyer worked for the Shannon and Luchs real estate firm for a while, and later helped pave runways at Andrews Air Force Base before enlisting in the Army on Oct. 30, 1942.
"He told me after he had already signed up," Jean Davis recalled.
Switching to the U.S. Army Air Forces in March 1944, he was commissioned and posted to England as a pilot with the 509th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 405th Fighter Group.
His daughter, Carolyn, was born Dec. 15, 1944. Dorothy Dyer sent her brother a telegram, telling him he was a father. Exactly two weeks later, at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 29, he was shot down.
When the telegram arrived at her apartment in Southeast Washington, Jean Davis refused to open it. Her brother had to read it to her: "The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your husband Second Lieutenant John R. Dyer has been reported missing in action since Twenty Nine December . . . "
"I was in shock," she recalled. "I just remember I sat on the bed, by the crib, and I couldn't think what to do."
The telegram came Jan. 16, 1945, the same day Allied forces secured victory in the Battle of the Bulge. A few days later, she received her final letter from Jack. He wanted to know if his child was a boy or a girl.
Jean Davis took her daughter to Buffalo and lived with an aunt for a year. After returning to Washington, she married her second husband in 1947 and had a son. Still, it took three years before she no longer felt the pain that came with that telegram.
"I never let anybody see me cry," she said.
In 1998, a television station in Luxembourg aired a segment on the remnants of a U.S. warplane that had been found in a field, just inside the border with Belgium. After a preliminary investigation, military authorities in Luxembourg alerted the U.S. Army in February 2002.
At Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, the U.S. military maintains a little-known unit called the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which consists of more than 400 scientists, archaeologists, mortuary specialists and military officers whose mission is to identify the remains of missing U.S. servicemen.
Each year, the group identifies 60 to 75 missing soldiers, sailors and pilots from various conflicts. In the past two years, it has brought the remains of 45 missing servicemen from World War II back to their families.
"We view this as a humanitarian mission," said Johnie E. Webb, senior adviser to the command center, who has been with the group since it began in 1973. "It gives us an opportunity to provide answers to family members who have lived with uncertainty for 20, 30 or 60 years, and who were wondering what happened to the young man they sent off to war."
In July and August 2002, a team of excavators went to Luxembourg, where, about five feet beneath the surface, they found the engine of a P-47, four .50-caliber machine guns, buckles, buttons and scraps of canvas and leather, as well as Dyer's other personal effects.
The bracelet and dog tag containing Dyer's name now belong to Carolyn Sowell. The rest of her father's remains were wrapped in a blanket and folded inside a crisp new uniform, decorated with Dyer's medals, before they were buried yesterday.
"We have the great honor to return a hero back home," Webb said.
The Army had wanted to bury Dyer with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, but Sowell had another idea. She asked that the ceremony take place at Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery in Upper Marlboro.
That's where Jack Dyer was laid to rest yesterday, in a fresh plot barely 100 feet from the grave of Robert Davis, Sowell's adoptive father, who had been a quartermaster in North Africa during World War II.
As the echoes from the honor guard's rifles ceased and the bugler's final note faded, Jack Dyer had made his last and best journey home.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company