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The remains of a WWII airman from Southwest Michigan are coming home

The entrance to Fort Custer National Cemetery, the sign and insignia on a stone wall with American flags along the entrance. The trees that line the road are in full autumn colors.
Leona Larson
First Lt. Richard Kasten will be buried at Ft. Custer National Cemetery on May 28.

A military funeral for the fallen serviceman will be held at Fort Custer National Cemetery in May.

A sepia toned portrait photo of Richard Kasten in a suit and tie, with his hair slicked back.
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
First Lieutenant Richard Kasten was killed over France on a bombing mission against V-1 missile sites in France.

David Boeskool was just a toddler in Grand Rapids when his Uncle Dick’s plane went down in France. And when the military notified him in February that his uncle’s remains had been identified 80-years after the plane went down, Boeskool said it came “out of the blue.”

“If you stop and think about the amount of people, dedicated people, that are involved in locating and identifying the remains and the relatives... you know, his last name was Kasten. And there are no Kasten’s left that I know of,” Boeskool said.

Kasten graduated from high school in Grand Rapids and also had ties to Kalamazoo. The 24-year old was a navigator on a B24 bomber in World War II.

On January 21, 1944, his plane was attacked by German air fighters near Écalles-sur-Buchy, France, according to the report from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the department charged with identifying unknown fallen American soldiers.

The report said four of the plane’s 11 crew members were killed. The others bailed out and were taken prisoner. Boeskool said one of the survivors reported that his uncle was killed in the initial attack.

Of the crew members who perished in the attack, all but Kasten were identified. Eventually buried at a US military cemetery in France, Kasten’s grave was marked as an unknown soldier.

In July, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used anthropological analysis and mitochondrial DNA to identify Kasten’s remains. Boeskool said his cousins provided DNA samples to confirm the identification.

“I'm pretty impressed with the fact that they are still trying to give closure to, to family members who had people that were killed in Second World War all these many years later,” Boeskool said.

Black and white portrait photo of WII sailor, Raymond Boynton in his navy uniform.  Boynton has a big smile.
Navy Personnel Command
Seaman 2nd Class, Raymond Boynton of Grandville was killed on the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

DPAA’s Sean Everette said there are more than 38,000 unidentified soldiers from the Second World War. That’s more than the total from any other U-S conflict in the 20th century. Of the 40 soldiers identified so far this year, 34 fought in World War II. Everette said DPAA works with each military branch to notify relatives.

 “For some families that gives them closure that they may never have had,” Said Everette.

 “For others, it doesn't necessarily bring closure, but it brings them answers. What happened to my uncle? And so, we're able to give them those answers. We know what happened to your uncle, he was here and now he's coming home.”

Navy seaman Raymond Boynton from Grandville, killed at Pearl
Harbor, was buried in Hawaii last week. Boynton had been serving on the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese launched the surprise attack that pulled the United States into World War II.

First Lieutenant Richard Kasten will be buried with full military honors at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Battle Creek on May 28.

Boeskool said that his family is very proud of their uncle’s sacrifice and the government’s efforts to bring him home.

“I think it's a tremendous program. And just the efforts involved to continue to identify these people is basically awesome.”

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.