Thursday, June 23, 2011

66 Years Later

Her father went missing during his service in World War II, and that’s basically all Carol Ann Sansenbach knew about Marvin J. Steinford.

So when government officials contacted her mother in 2005 to report finding what they believed to be his remains in a Soviet war memorial and grave site in Hungary, Sansenbach was stunned.

“I was in disbelief,” she said after her father’s life and military service were honored Tuesday with a memorial service at Christ Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids followed by a 21-gun salute and rendition of “Taps” at the Cedar Memorial Cemetery.

A Boeing B-52 also roared over Steinford’s final resting place in honor of the man who friends remembered as an American hero on Tuesday. His family members, some united for the first time, raised their chins and covered their eyes in a pseudo salute to watch the massive aircraft pass over.

“It has been fun finally getting to meet some of his relatives,” Sansenbach said. “I didn’t know them before.”

The discovery of his remains has led Sansenbach to a wealth of information about Steinford, who was known by friends as “Steiney.” Born Aug. 29, 1922, Steinford grew up in Keystone before enlisting in the U.S. Army Corps, now known as the U.S. Air Force, in 1942.

He was deployed oversees in December 1944 and was on a bombing mission from Amendola, Italy to Berlin Germany on March 24, 1945, when he disappeared between Soviet and German lines in Hungary. The then 22-year-old serviceman had bailed out of a B-17 aircraft that had been damaged by German anti-aircraft fire.

He was considered missing in action for decades, until Hungarian authorities notified the United States Defense Attache in Budapest in November 2004 that the remains of what they believed was a U.S. serviceman had been found in the city of Zirc.

Crews were excavating a Soviet memorial and grave site so they could relocate it to the outskirts of town, when they unearthed a wooden coffin that looked different from the other Soviet coffins.

It took years for the government agencies to coordinate an exhumination of the site, and investigators confirmed the remains belonged to Steinford in July 2009. Steinford’s family members had learned in 2005 that his remains might have been found, and Sansenbach said Tuesday that it’s nice to finally give him a proper burial.

While waiting for his remains, Sansenbach said, she read investigative reports about his disappearance and learned a lot about the moments preceding his death. The question that remains, however, is who buried him and how he ended up in the dissimilar coffin.

“How did he end up in that box?” she said.

Sansenbach, who on Tuesday wore her mother’s locket containing a photo of her father, also has learned more about Steinford’s personal life as information has continued to emerge about his time in the military. One friend told her that he was artistic, for example.

“I always liked to draw,” she said. “I wondered where that came from.”

During the memorial service, which was attended by more than 100 people, Ed McGivern, who grew up with Steinford in Keystone, said he feels the discovery of his friend’s remains years later is “almost a miracle.”

“For those of us who believe in a higher being, it’s hard not to believe this his repatriation wasn’t meant to be,” McGivern said.

Sansenbach, who never got to meet her father, said Tuesday provided a lot of closure. Rev. Martha Rogers, who officiated the service, said it also provided encouragement to families still looking for their loved ones.

“This is a day of great hope,” she said.



Bag Blog said...

That story really touched me. Closure is important as is honoring our war heroes.

Sarge Charlie said...

No one left behind, this is a great post and yes, his repatriation was meant to be.....

AirmanMom said...

bag blog...I could not agree more!

AirmanMom said...

sarge...66 years seems a bit too long for any family...but it's better than never. hugs to you, my friend.