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The Rural Maine Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the Betterment Fund.

World War II soldier and Maine native Sgt. Zelwood Gravlin laid to rest in Avon

A World War II soldier killed when he was just 21 years old in August 1943 will finally be laid to rest next to his mother in Avon Saturday morning.

Sgt. Zelwood Gravlin was an gunner aboard a B-24 bomber flying over Romania during Operation Tidal Wave, a mission intended to destroy oil refineries used by the Germans. Gravlin's plane was one of 51 shot down on that mission. His great niece Sue White says she promised her father she would bring her great uncle home.

"It was a promise that I made to my dad," White said. "My dad would write to senators to see if they found his remains. He died 20 years ago and he asked me to keep it going. He said, 'Someday they're going to find him.'"

White will be presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart medals posthumously awarded to Sgt. Gravlin. He will be buried at Mile Square Cemetery with full military honors, including a B-52 flyover and 21-gun salute. White said her family was determined to bring her great uncle home, to celebrate his life and to honor his sacrifice in the small rural community.

"We never gave up. I didn't like history in high school but I love this because it's family. It means a lot to my father and great grandmother. " White said. "People should be proud. I'm proud. I didn't know him but I'm really proud of him."

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified Gravlin using family DNA samples. The agency has identified 37 of 80 unknown soldiers from Operation Tidal Wave.