U.S. Army Air Forces Flight Officer Dewey L. Gossett of Spartanburg was 23 when his plane crashed in Italy during World War II.
Now, more than 72 years later, Gossett's remains were identified after extensive family research and DNA testing. His remains will be returned to his family for a burial with full military honors, The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Monday.
“It gives us closure. We know we're going to bring him home now,” said Nora Messick, Gossett's grandniece. “We finally have answers, and we finally know. There's a relief that goes with it. We want to get him home. There's that anticipation; getting him here now.”
Messick said Gossett has been a hero to her and her family.
He often sent money home to his family, who lived in the Arcadia Mill Village, she said. He frequently checked up on his family despite being involved in one of the deadliest conflicts in recorded history.
“Growing up, my grandmother, she would talk to me about Dewey all the time. He was her brother,” she said. “He was a hero to all of us. All of his (Gossett's) brothers and sisters made sure that their children knew he was a hero.”
U.S. Air Force Reserves Lt. Col. Holly Slaughter, public relations officer with the DPAA, said on Sept. 27, 1943, Gossett was the pilot of a single-seat A-36A “Apache” aircraft. He and three other pilots were part of a strafing mission searching for targets in Italy.
Slaughter said within 10 minutes of taking off, the group of planes encountered bad weather and poor visibility. The pilots each landed near a ravine under cloud cover.
After taking off again, three of the four planes turned left.
Gossett took his plane right, however.
The plane Gossett was flying disappeared near Acerno, Italy not long after taking off, Slaughter said.
A year later, Gossett was officially declared dead.
The American Graves Registration Service, an organization dedicated to recovering and identifying the remains of U.S. service members, conducted a search in March 1945.
That investigation revealed that a pilot was buried in the Civil Cemetery in Acerno, Italy, but the remains were later discovered to have been from a different plane crash in the area.
In June 2012, U.S. investigators contacted a private group of Italian historians, Association Salerno 1943, which discovered the crash site of a plane that appeared to be the same type Gossett was flying when he crashed, defense officials said.
Two years later, the group visited the site and found human remains, which were turned over to U.S. personnel.
Scientists and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory teamed up to identify the remains, using DNA analysis.
The results matched Gossett's remains to his two nieces and Messick.
His official burial, with full military honors, is scheduled for April 11 in Wellford.
The burial will give Gossett's family a chance to finally honor a man who will never be truly gone.
“I've had Dewey's picture hanging up on my wall for years,” she said. “My kids have grown up with his picture up on the wall and hearing those stories. Their kids will know it, too.”