After soldier missing since 1944 finally comes home, more of his photos, letters also turn up
Andrew Adams, Deseret News
PLEASANT GROVE — Having just laid to rest the remains of a family member missing for decades in the South Pacific, the family of U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Vernal J. Bird is learning of a new discovery.
Another family uncovered a trove of wartime letters and photos belonging to Bird while combing through a loved one’s home in Pleasant Grove ahead of an estate sale.
“I think that, on a spiritual side, someone wanted us to find their stuff and get it back to their family,” Nanalie Knotts said.
Knotts said her mother was a collector of many things. The woman’s home Tuesday was blanketed in knickknacks and collectibles.
Still, Knotts said her family did not know the Bird family, nor did she believe they shared any connection that would have led to the pictures being in her mother’s house.
“Rather than maybe see them thrown away, we wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t buy these at a yard sale,” Knotts said.
Among the belongings were pictures of Bird in uniform and letters addressed to family in Magna and Pleasant Grove.
Knotts' initial reaction Saturday was to discard the random letters. She saw the family’s story two days later and rushed to the garbage.
“I ran back from work (Monday) and went through the recycling bin and the garbage until I found the stuff,” she said.
Bird was missing for decades after a bombing mission against Japanese forces in New Guinea in 1944. It was believed Bird was lost at sea. However, a resident of the island nation discovered the crash site in 2001.
Family members later discovered that DNA could be cross-checked against discovered remains. Last month, the Bird family was notified of a match and a funeral service was held Saturday.
Lorna Snyder, Bird’s nice, had not yet seen the photos or letters Tuesday. She said she was thankful for the find but wasn’t necessarily surprised. Bird and his enlisted friends, she said, were prolific letter writers.
Knotts said she hopes the discovery makes a difference to the Bird family.
“We have found tons of our family history. Our father came from a big military family,” Knotts said. “Their history means so much to us. I can’t help but think that this would, because they lost him.”
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