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Missing WWII airman laid to rest 67 years later

October 27, 2010 |  2:41 pm

In October 1943, Army Staff Sgt. Claude A. Ray and 10 of his fellow airmen were declared missing in action after their B-24 Liberator aircraft disappeared while flying over Papau New Guinea during World War II.

On Wednesday –- 67 years to the day after he disappeared -- Ray was finally laid to rest.

Clauderay Ray, who was 24 years old when he went missing, was buried Wednesday at Riverside National Cemetery. Among the visitors were some relatives, now in their 80s, who were children during the war, cemetery officials said.

Ray was among a group of soldiers who attempted a reconnaissance mission of shipping lanes in the Bismark Sea to gather information for an attack on the Japanese stronghold of nearby Rabaul, New Britain. The city was considered vital to the eventual invasion of the Phillipines, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Though Ray had just completed what would have been his final mission before being sent home, he volunteered to fill in for an airman who was unable to take part, cemetery officials said.

Burt Risser, Ray's closest living relative, told the North County Times: "After all these years of wondering what happened to him and knowing how much my mother and his mother and father suffered and died without ever having any closure on his disappearance, it's a prayer answered all these many years later to know that he is finally coming home to the country he died for."

During the mission, the soldiers were told by radio to abort and land at a nearby air strip because of dangerous weather. But the plane lost radio contact –- and the last radio transmission from the aircraft did not indicate a location. Despite numerous attempts, search crews were unable to locate the crash site.

In 1949, after the war had ended, the Army attempted to located 43 missing airmen in the area but were again unsuccessful, according to the Department of Defense.

In August 2003, the Joint Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Accounting Command received information of a possible crash site containing identification cards and possible human remains in Papau New Guinea.

After failed attempts to reach the site in 2004, a team was able to excavate the site in March 2007 and found remains that matched DNA of Ray's relatives.

-- Stephen Ceasar

Photos: WWII airman buried at Riverside National Cemetery

Top photo: A carriage bearing the casket of Claude Ray makes its way to the burial ceremony at Riverside National Cemetery on Wednesday morning. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times. Bottom photo: Army Staff Sgt. Claude Ray. Credit: Associated Press