LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Seventy-six years ago, a 20-year-old Marine from Louisville made the ultimate sacrifice when he died in Japan during World War II.
On Friday morning, John Bayens' remains were finally brought home -- and his family says it's like an early Christmas gift.
Officials with the Louisville International Muhammad Ali Airport say they typically don't let many vehicles onto the tarmac when a soldier's body is brought home. But on Friday, they made an exception for the family of John Bayens as dozens of loved ones gathered to properly say goodbye 76 years after he was killed.
RETURNING HOME: This is John Bayens’ family. He was killed in 1943 during WWII. His remains were recovered in March, and today he’s finally coming home to dozens of welcoming family members. They couldn’t be more excited. @WDRBNews pic.twitter.com/5r4L3jeHuI— Lexie Ratterman (@LRatterman_WDRB) December 13, 2019
"You got to hand it to the military: They really never gave up looking for him," said Jack Massey, Bayens' nephew.
"It happened a long time ago, but it's still very present in a lot of people's minds that grew up during that time frame, or had parents in that time frame," said Capt. Tyler Garrett, an Inspector Instructor for the 4th Tank Battalion at Fort Knox. He added that it's important to let those people know that our lost service members "weren't forgotten."
Bayens was only 20 years old when he was killed in November 1943 while serving in the U.S. Marines.
His body was reportedly buried in Cemetery 33 on the island where he died.
Five years ago, History Flight, Inc. located the cemetery and scientists used a dental analysis to identify Bayens back in March.
They say it's ironic, because everyone always talked about his great smile.
Bayens' nephew says he was proudly named John, after his uncle, and goes by Jack just like he did.
"Growing up, [in] stories about the war, he was always the one mentioned as the hero," Massey said. "And he was. In a really tough battle."
Bayens will receive full honors at his burial service on Monday, Dec. 16. His family says he'll be buried just 15 steps from his parents.
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