UW researchers investigate WWII soldier's fate - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW researchers investigate WWII soldier's fate


MADISON (WKOW) -- Researchers at the UW Biotechnology Center are trying to help answer a family's questions and determine the fate of a fallen, World War II soldier.

Officials say 28-year-old Private First Class Lawrence Gordon of Wyoming was killed in action in August, 1944 in France.

But his final resting place has been a mystery - one that has troubled his namesake nephew, Canadian attorney Lawrence Gordon.

"I simply felt Uncle Lawrence's body had been lost and I would never know where it was," Gordon tells CBC News.

DNA Sequencing Facility Director Josh Hyman tells 27 News a documentary filmmaker's research led to Hyman's facility being asked to help in the search to find and identify the soldier's remains. Hyman says he became aware of the years-long frustration of nephew Gordon.

"Private first class Gordon just had a name, a marker on the wall, along with all the other unknown soldiers. So at that point, Lawrence Gordon the namesake could not visit the grave site, and this is something he promised his father he would do," Hyman says.

The filmmaker's research turned up the possibility soldier Gordon had been mistakenly buried with the unidentified remains of German soldiers.

Hyman and Gordon's nephew were part of a contingent to travel to France this year, as French authorities decided to examine some remains in the search for a possible, positive identity of Gordon. Hyman says they had the soldier's dental records.

"We immediately recognized the loss of one of the teeth, the pattern of the teeth," Hyman tells 27 News.

Hyman says Biotechnology Center staff members will carry out DNA confirmatory tests, using samples from the soldier's nephew and other family members, and the soldier's remains, when provided by French authorities.

Hyman says the DNA Sequencing Facility focuses on research, with this investigation steeped in forensic science. "This is something that's fairly well established, but not necessarily at this University yet."

But Hyman says the Center has formed a molecular archaeology group, and using DNA to try to confirm a World War II soldier's remains is consistent with a mission to assemble DNA sequences from hundreds of years in the past.

Hyman also says while federal officials are careful not to disturb war remains unless there is overwhelming evidence to indicate positive identification is likely, DNA research as part of investigations holds potential to produce more certain and swift results, and within available, financial resources.

Officials say thousands of World War II veterans such as Gordon remain unidentified.

"So it's not as if these kids were killed and their families knew exactly where they were," Hyman tells 27 News.

"There were families that were disrupted, and children had died," Hyman says.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports if the examined remains turn out to be those of Private Gordon, family members hope to have the remains interred in Gordon's native Canada, on the 70th anniversary of his death. 


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