WWII soldier's remains returned to Mississippi for burial

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U.S. Army Pvt. Andrew J. Ladner (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency)

The remains of a soldier killed during World War II have been returned to his Mississippi community for burial after nearly 80 years.

Pvt. Andrew Ladner was laid to rest Saturday at Wolf River Cemetery in Gulfport, WLOX-TV reported.

Ladner was assigned to the 126th infantry regiment in 1942. That November, his unit was part of the effort to cut off Japanese supply and communication lines coming from their beachhead at Sanananda Village, Territory of Papua, on the island of New Guinea, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

"They went through hell. The Japanese were prepared and a unit that started with 3,500 was decimated," casualties assistant officer Lt. David Leiva told WLOX.

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The unit was successful on the mission, but 30-year-old Ladner and other soldiers died. For decades, his family mourned without being able to bury him.

"The battle was so hellish that they couldn’t do what they do today, where we send them back. The unit had to continue fighting. They probably buried him at night," Leiva said.

After the war, the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, American Graves Registration Service, searched battle areas and crash sites in New Guinea. Investigators found no evidence of Ladner, and he was declared nonrecoverable Jan. 24, 1950.

In November 2016, remains of an unknown solider were disinterred and sent to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for examination and analysis.

The agency said Ladner's remains were identified July 2021. Scientists used dental and anthropological analysis, and material and circumstantial evidence. Scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System also used mitochondrial DNA analysis.

Ladner's niece, Voetress Ladner, was 12 when he died. She said she grew up thinking of him as a brother. Voetress said she's happy her uncle is back home, but she always hoped he would return alive.

Ladner’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been found.