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Missing WW II pilot identified

After 66 years of uncertainty, the remains of a World War II pilot from Floral Park, L.I., whose plane crashed in Burma have been identified and his family is set to hold his funeral this week, getting the closure they have sought for decades, his relatives and the U.S. Department of Defense said.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Joseph J. Auld was one of seven soldiers who were identified from the Burma crash site, the DOD said. Burma is now Myanmar.

“For years, the pain, oh my God,” Gini Doolittle, a cousin and next-of-kin to Auld, said of the anguish her family has had to endure for decades. “When I think of [the military’s] motto — ‘No man left behind’ — it’s true. They have left no stone unturned and made every effort to bring them home and now they’re finally home.”

Doolittle, 64, of Sicklerville, N.J., was not born yet when her 26-year-old cousin disappeared. No immediate members of Auld’s family are still alive.

Auld grew up in Floral Park, L.I., and attended Sewanhaka High School and Brooklyn Tech before enlisting in the Army in 1943, Doolittle said.

“He really wanted to be a pilot, so off he went to the military,” she said.

Doolittle said the United States’ lack of diplomatic ties with Burma led to the 66-year delay and she first heard in 2004 that the plane carrying Auld was likely located.

“Our political relations got in the way and this was our first attempt” at finding the remains, she said.

It was in late 2002 when a missionary provided U.S. officials with a data plate from a C-47 plane crash site about 31 miles northwest of Myitkyina in Myanmar, the DOD said. In 2003, a Burmese citizen turned over human remains and identification tags for three of the plane’s crew members.

Doolittle said DNA tests taken from her were used to identify Auld, whose teeth were the only remains that had enough DNA to identify him.

Auld’s funeral is scheduled for Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery, Doolittle said, and he will have full military honors, including a gun salute and flyover. About 40 family members and friends are expected to attend the ceremony.

Doolittle said the family considered burying Auld closer to home in Queens or Long Island, but felt Arlington was more appropriate.

“It’s sort of a thing you do for the country, to let others know” his sacrifice, she said.

The Department of Defense’s announcement was bittersweet for Auld’s family, since his closest relatives are not alive.

“A lot of people have no closure,” Doolittle said. “It means a lot to those other families.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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