Formerly unidentified remains of WWII sailor coming home to Marshall County

MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. -- A simple mistake during WWII caused a Marshall County man's body to be labeled 'unknown'.  On Saturday, his body will finally be coming home after all of these years.

Ira 'Buck' Slaton Photo / Heather Bean

Inside the Nixon Chapel Cemetery, there's a tombstone that has been there since the 1940s. Navy Reserve Seaman 2nd Class Ira Slaton's parents put it there because they never got to bury their son.

Buck, as he was known, served on the battleship USS Colorado in WWII. He was killed in action.

On July 24, 1944, the battleship was moored off the shore of Tinian Island, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Early in the morning, the U.S.S. Colorado, along with the light cruiser Cleveland and destroyers Remey and Norman Scott, commenced firing toward the island. A concealed Japanese shore battery opened fire. "There were a total of 39 guys on the U.S.S. Colorado who got killed that day, and they were all buried in individual graves on the island of Saipan in a Marine cemetery," said Heather Bean, Slaton's great-niece.

Slaton's body was to be relocated, but a mistake would cause a mystery that spanned decades. "Instead of his initials being I.N. Slaton, they put J.N. Slaton," Bean explained.

Ira 'Buck' Slaton Photo / Heather Bean

Because of that, the body couldn't be positively identified and was declared unknown.

"The family over the years, even going back to Buck's siblings and parents, have always tried to have this come to this conclusion," Bean said.

This conclusion came in the form of a DNA request. "The military was asking for DNA samples," Bean remembered. Her grandmother and father responded.

"We didn't hear anything for a long time and then just out of the blue last year, last Fall, my great-uncle Jack, who lives in Georgia, who is the last sibling still living, he got notified by the military," Bean explained.

Slaton was accounted for on September 24, 2018. His body was coming home to Marshall County.

Ira 'Buck' Slaton Photo / Heather Bean

The Navy organized and will officiate a funeral for him on Saturday in Nixon Chapel. He'll be buried under the tombstone his parents bought for him more than 70 years ago. Bean says it's bittersweet.

"It's just been one of those stories that we've talked about on and off over the years," Bean said.

"We feel very fortunate," she added.

Slaton's name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

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