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WWI soldier buried at Arlington, 91 years after he died during battle in France

Private Thomas D. Costello, 26, of New York City was killed Sept. 16, 1918 in France during World War I. After initially being buried in the battlefield, his remains were recovered in 2006. French military attache Col. Brice Houdet came to pay his respects at a funeral held for Costello at Arlington Cemetery.

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On June 8, 1921, an Army captain wrote Mrs. Nora Grady of New York to report that officials had been unable to find the body of her brother, Thomas D. Costello, who had been killed in France during the late war.

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The captain reassured Mrs. Grady that the search would continue. But "some time may yet elapse before definitive information can be given in this case."

On Monday, 89 years later -- and 91 years after Costello, a private in the 60th Infantry Regiment, was killed by German artillery in a patch of woods called the Bois de Bonvaux -- his remains were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

He was buried at 11 a.m. on a hill beneath a freshly trimmed swamp oak, not far from his World War I commander, Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, who had led the "doughboys" to Europe in 1917.

A warm breeze rustled the leaves as a bugler played taps and a French Army colonel came by to pay his respects. "I wanted to show the gratitude of my country," said Col. Brice Houdet.

Costello's fairly complete skeleton was discovered by relic hunters in eastern France in 2006, along with the remains of several other soldiers, and artifacts such as a blue-beaded rosary, a smashed French coin, a pocketknife, toothbrushes and the remnants of boots and uniforms.

He was identified after an investigation by the Defense Department's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command that matched, among other things, dental records and evidence of the fatal head wound Costello had suffered.

Pentagon officials said it was one of only a handful of instances in recent years in which the remains of a World War I casualty were discovered and identified.

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Also present Monday was a Costello family descendant, Michael J. Frisbie, 43, a truck driver from Stockton Springs, Maine, who flew down for the funeral with his wife, Leanne, and daughter, Brittani. They sat in the green-covered graveside chairs reserved for family members.

Frisbie, who had no idea he was a relative until he was contacted about two years ago by a Pentagon genealogist, said he believes that Costello was his great-great uncle. But the distance of the connection "doesn't matter," Frisbie said. "He's a fallen soldier, and if I can honor him, that's great."

The story begins on the evening of Sept. 16, 1918, as Costello's regiment was digging in after an advance under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, according to the Pentagon investigation and records in the National Archives.

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