Sisters learn of burial mix-up 60 years ago
The sisters initially thought the telephone message last summer was some sort of “colossal joke.’’ Their brother’s remains were buried some 60 years ago, after all, in the Long Island National Cemetery. And now, someone was telling them that his remains were discovered earlier this year in Bosnia.
Several times a year, Christine and Theresa Miaskiewicz traveled 258 miles from Salem to visit the grave in Farmingdale, N.Y. They would bring flowers, shed tears, and whisper their love to Army Staff Sergeant Mieczyslaus “Mashie’’ Miaskiewicz, who died in the service of his country in a plane crash during World War II.
But the message on July 27 shattered their reality, throwing into question what they were told by the Army six decades ago.
There had been a mix-up. Mashie’s remains were not at Plot 13586, Section J, and they were not even at the cemetery on Long Island. His remains were uncovered by archeologists last July from a shallow hillside grave in Bosnia, formerly Yugoslavia.
“Well, I can tell you that finding that out really brought me back to that day when I was in the sixth grade and my family got the news that he was missing in action,’’ Theresa Miaskiewicz, 78, said in a telephone interview from her home in Salem.
Michael Mee, the chief of identification for the Army’s Past Conflict Repatriations Branch, traveled to the sisters’ North Shore home and sat down with them Thursday to explain the mix-up and offer an apology. The meeting was first reported by the Salem News yesterday.
Miaskiewicz, 25, was a member of an 11-man crew of the Daisy Mae, a B-17 bomber that had flown to Romania in 1944 to bomb oil fields, but turned back due to bad weather. As the plane flew over Germany, antiaircraft fire tore off the cockpit and the plane crashed in what was then Yugoslavia.
Three men parachuted, but became prisoners of war who were eventually returned to the United States. The remains of seven crew members were buried locally by villagers. But in 1949, Army officials made positive identifications from six graves, using dog tags and dental records.
But officials could not determine the identity of the remains from the seventh grave and surmised that they belonged to Miaskiewicz and Sergeant John Nolan of Pennsylvania. Those remains were buried the following year in plot 13586, with the names of both airmen on the headstone.
Miaskiewicz’ parachute never deployed, Mee said. The locals found his body separate from the other crew members and wrapped him in his parachute before burying him in a remote hillside grave that was covered with stones. The villagers took care of the grave over the years, Theresa Miaskiewicz said.
The sisters, the last of 11 siblings, said they submitted DNA samples to the Army that were positively matched with samples from the remains.
“We knew immediately, before the DNA testing, that it was him, because he was found with rosary beads and a cross,’’ said Theresa Miaskiewicz. “We are a very Christian-oriented family, always have been.’’
Their brother’s remains are at a US Army mortuary in Germany and are expected to be returned to the sisters within the next few weeks. They plan to bury his remains at a family plot at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Salem.
Military officials are trying to contact the Nolan family.
Theresa Miaskiewicz said Mee apologized to her and her 85-year-old sister on behalf of the Army. They accepted the apology.
“He was a great brother,’’ said Theresa Miaskiewicz. “He would give me all kinds of gifts, especially rolls of peppermint Life Savers. He disciplined me when I needed it and taught me terrific Christian values.’’