WEIRTON, W.Va. (WTRF) – It’s a mission unlike any other, to bring soldiers remains home and lay them to rest.
There’s a military agency who dedicates itself to accounting for the nearly 82,000 service members who are still missing. Recently they were able to tell two West Virginia families that their loved ones can be brought home after they died fighting in World War II.
A few years ago, the family of Army Private First Class John. J. Sitarz got a call. It was the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency saying they may have found the young Weirton soldier, more than 70 years after he was killed fighting in Germany.
We have some closure now.Walt Kosin, Nephew
Army Private First Class John J. Sitarz was the second youngest in a family of eight siblings from Weirton.
He was of slight build. He was only 5’4″ and the story goes from my aunt that he had to eat bananas every day for a couple of weeks to get his weight up to have enough weight to be inducted into the Army. He made it by one pound. He was 5’4″, 106 pounds.Walt Kosin, Nephew
His military service began in 1944. Sitarz was stationed stateside in Washington, D.C. for many months before going overseas.
He was put into a shop that distributed apparel to the G.I.s that were going to go overseas. His supervisor told him after a couple weeks that he could have John stay and not have to go to Europe to fight and he could just stay at that shop distributing uniforms. He said he didn’t want to do that that he wanted to go fight for his country.Walt Kosin, Nephew
It was that courageous decision that would end his life in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest.
Hürtgen was a very bloody battle. A lot of casualties, but the woods are very thick there, so often times soldiers when they were killed in action would be left behind and plus units would go in and come out frequently.Jim Bell, Identification Specialist, U.S. Army
The Army initially declared Sitarz missing in November of 1944. Eventually his status was changed to killed in action a year later.
He passed away six months into his service, and six months before the war’s end.
Evidently the German soldiers had enough respect for the American G.I.s that they buried him in a cemetery with other deceased American G.I.s, so that’s where they found his remains.Walt Kosin, Nephew
Although attempts to recover soldiers continued in the years after World War II, modern forms of identification allow the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to be more successful.
It’s such a special mission.Jim Bell, Identification Specialist, U.S. Army
The process is complex and takes several years. To explain it simply, when the DPAA recovers a set of unidentified remains, they are brought back to the U.S. for DNA and chemical testing. When they have a possible match, the next of kin is notified to help with additional information. That call was made to the Sitarz family a few years ago.
There’s a lot of emotion, even when we make that first phone call.Jim Bell, Identification Specialist, U.S. Army
When it’s an undisputed match, Bell goes to meet with the family, present their loved ones service medals, and help with funeral arrangements. In this case, it was Sitarz’s youngest sister Bernice Krayzel who still lives in Weirton. Bell said their meeting was delayed initially by COVID-19.
You almost feel like a family member too, but the next of kin was his sister and she shared stories of her memories.Jim Bell, Identification Specialist, U.S. Army
Although all who serve are heroes, Kosin said there’s a reason these men were called the “Greatest Generation.”
They grew up during the Depression and they fought in the world war to basically save the freedom and liberty for our country.Walt Kosin, Nephew
Pfc. Sitarz will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors in a few months, which was always the request of his mother. Kosin tells 7News much of the family hopes to attend.
Military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery traditionally involve a casket being pulled by horses. Kosin said his cousin Nancy Sitarz, who is another relative, is the veterinarian who takes care of those horses.