Local WWII veteran's remains recovered more than 70 years later, in a tree

KENT, Wash. -- A sad reunion that was decades in the making.

“They loved each other as brothers and friends,” Doug Louvier said.

It’s a story of two best friends who grew up together in the Rainier Valley.

“They both enlisted together and went to war,” Jan Bradshaw said.

Jan Bradshaw’s father, First Lt. Jim Louvier, came back from World War II.

First Lt. Bill Gray did not.

“They think he took some enemy fire,” Bradshaw said.

Bill’s plane crashed in Germany in April 1945. Since then, time has stood still with Bill’s remains unfound.

“I never expected him to be returned,” Bradshaw said.

The only tangible memory are the more than 100 letters Bill wrote during the war.

“The last letter said he had done 68 missions,” Bradshaw said.

But now they can add closure to these chapters. More than 70 years later, family members learned that Bill’s bones were still giving life to a tree at the crash site.

“The bones that they found were embedded in the tree,” Bradshaw said.

“It grew over his remains and really protected and marked the spot,” Louvier said.

Family members say Army crews nearby investigating another case stumbled upon Bill’s site after two witnesses of the crash decades ago alerted crews of what happened in Bill’s crash.

In 2016, crews started excavating the forested location, going through every inch of dirt looking for any clues. After 15 days of excavating, Bradshaw says, crews made the astounding discovery in the root of the tree.

Advances in science helped match Bill’s DNA to his two sisters allowing the war hero to finally come home on Wednesday.

“I wish my dad was here to see this, to see Bill come home,” Bradshaw said.

At the age of 89, Jim died in 2010. But long before that he kept his promise to his best friend.

“If one doesn’t come back we are committed to taking care of the other's family,” Bradshaw said.

Keeping his word, Jim married Bill’s sister, who is Bradshaw’s mom.

“I know he loved her dearly and committed to her for 64 years before he died,” Bradshaw said.

But the family could never settle on where to bury Jim’s ashes.

“We couldn’t decide what to do and now we know why,” Bradshaw said.

Because the two best friends were meant to be -- side by side in their final resting place at Tahoma National Cemetery.

The two men were given a military burial with honors.

“I think they are having a cold drink up there smacking their glass together and saying we are finally back together,” Louvier said.