North Dakota family identifies remains of soldier who went missing in WWII

Army PFC Robert Alexander went missing in the South Pacific in 1944. Thanks to new technology and DNA from family, his remains have been identified and he's coming home.

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A North Dakota family tonight knows it will be an emotional homecoming the day Private First Class Robert Alexander is returned home to familiar ground here in the United States.

What started in a tiny town in North Dakota during World War II, will soon end in Arlington National Cemetery.

"It talks about a number of soldiers who were in that same unit, who were missing in action," Jason Benson, a great-nephew, said as he went through historical documents.

Benson and his brother, Darren, page through incredible piles of paper, documenting the loss of a great uncle in an unforgettable battle.

"It has a lot of historical information on the battle itself," Benson said.


Robert Alexander was just 23 when he enlisted in the Army in the fall of 1941. It would be the summer of 1944, on the island of Saipan in the South Pacific, when Robert and so many of the 27th Infantry Division would face the unthinkable: a Japanese force, trapped, who refused to surrender.

As they got close to the top of the island and there was no escape for the Japanese, the senior leaders did a suicide pact and the remaining 3,000-5,000 soldiers led what historians have noted as the largest suicidal, bonzai attack of World War II.

For years, Robert's family knew he was listed as missing and later presumed dead. His remains are in the U.S. Cemetery in the Philippines, but thanks to new technology and DNA from Jason and Darren's family, Robert's remains have been ID'd. He's coming home.

"Bringing Robert home and celebrating those remaining World War II vets, the few who are left and celebrating those who sacrificed all," Darren Benson, a great-nephew, said.

Robert and most of his unit were either killed or injured during the Battle of Saipan. Some still remain unidentified. The Bensons hope Robert's story will spark more families to donate DNA, to solve even more of these World War Two Heroes' stories.

"To hear that news after 78 years that he has been identified and will be brought back to the United States ( Arlington National Cemetery), what an honor to recognize his sacrifice and fighting for our freedoms in World War II," Jason said.

Once details are worked out, a special family graveside service, complete with military honors, will be held at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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