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WWII officer's remains end family's nagging questions

Published: Saturday, Nov. 13 2010 11:52 p.m. MST

George Willard Grismore died in action in the Philippines in 1945 during WWII.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Named for his father, George Willard Grismore Jr. never knew him.

He was not yet born when his dad, Army Capt. George Willard Grismore, died in the remote jungles of the Philippines on March 12, 1945, when the military transport plane he was commanding crashed on the Philippine island of Leyte. All six crew members died.

"It was wartime. My mother got notified by telegram. I can't quibble about that. Most military families were notified that way," George Grismore Jr. said. "After that, someone from the chaplain corps showed up and presented her with a flag, and that was it."

Until Saturday.

More than 65 years after his death, a memorial service was conducted in Salt Lake City to honor the life and service of Capt. Grismore. Although his remains were discovered in 1989, a positive DNA match was not made until a few weeks ago. Four of six crew members have been positively identified.

Details of Capt. Grismore's death only started to come together in the late 1980s after the crash site was discovered. Human remains were sent to an Army base in Manila and then to Hawaii, where a DNA test was eventually performed. Grismore's DNA was matched to his nephew, Salt Lake Tribune journalist Paul Rolly. Rolly's mother was Grismore's sister. She died in the 1970s.

For many years, it was believed the plane crashed in water. When Grismore's mother died in 1974, she was buried at sea off the coast of California, by her request, because that's where she felt closest to her late husband. Next week, Grismore's remains will be buried at sea as well.

The family now knows that the cargo plane, which was carrying gasoline from the island of Mindanao to Filipino underground fighters on the Japanese-occupied island of Leyte, crashed in a dense jungle. The crash was believed to be weather-related. It is unclear why the Filipino government would not allow access to the site before 1989.

"There's probably more remains out there," George Grismore Jr. said. "That's still a sore spot."

John Grismore, Capt. Grismore's brother, is the only surviving relative who knew him. John was 12 years old when his brother died.

John said his brother enjoyed dancing at the Rainbow Rendezvous ballroom and swimming at the Deseret Gym in downtown Salt Lake City. He taught John how to swim when he was just 3 years old.

He often invited his kid brother to join him on long walks on Sunday afternoons. John Grismore said his brother taught him about stop signs and pedestrian lanes. More important, he taught him take responsibility for his actions.

"Mostly, he just expressed through his actions and willingness to interact with a young boy, his love for me," John Grismore said.

Capt. Grismore grew up in Salt Lake City and was a graduate of South High School and the University of Utah, where he majored in military science. Upon graduation, Capt. Grismore received a commission in the U.S. Army and shipped to Hawaii along with his new bride, Val Broders, whom he met and married in Salt Lake City. The young couple was in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Grismores returned to the mainland between Capt. Grismore's two tours of duty to visit his ailing father. Capt. Grismore's son was conceived between his tours of duty but was born after his father was classified as missing in action.

After his father was confirmed dead but his body unrecoverable, the younger Grismore, whom family members call Billy, and his mother moved on with their lives. She went to college and became a teacher, working many years for the Salt Lake School District.

"We just kind of closed the book on my father. He was missing, and there wasn't a lot of information coming back," George Grismore Jr. said.

A while back, Billy was contacted by the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing Action Accounting Command, which attempts to achieve the fullest accounting of "all Americans missing as a result of the nation's past conflicts," according to its website.

"I thought it was someone who was trying to rip me off," Grismore said.

But it was through JPAC that Billy has finally received answer to many questions that have dogged him over the years. Two weeks ago, JPAC called Billy to tell him that his father's remains had been positively identified and that the military would be returning them to the family.

The memorial service and burial will provide much-needed closure to the Grismore family. A son and a brother are no longer burdened with nagging questions about his whereabouts and the circumstances of his death.

"I don't have to worry about Willard any more," John Grismore said of his big brother.

e-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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