Family greets WWII sailor from Athens, returned home for burial

ATHENS, Ala. - A sailor who was killed in World War II returned home on Friday.

Water Tender 2nd Class Edgar Gross died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor nearly 80 years ago.

This process of identifying his remains started in 2011 when some of Ed's family was asked to give DNA samples.

The next step took seven years, as they say in the military, 'hurry up and wait'.

Last fall, Ed's family got confirmation, which meant he could home to his final resting place in Alabama.

"This is the dream, it really is," Ed's great-nephew Stephen Gross said.

This family has a lot of catching up to do.

"He was a country boy just like all my aunts and uncles were," Stephen said.

"He was my grandfather's youngest brother," Ed's great-nephew retired U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Tom Gross said.

Nobody inside Limestone Chapel Funeral Home has ever met Ed Gross.

"He had enlisted originally in 1922, at the age of 21," Tom said.

"He actually lied to get back in," Ed's great-niece Margaret New said.

But they're about to, in a way.

"I can't tell you the number of times my mother and grandmother said they wished they could live to see the day he'd come home," Stephen said.

Stephen and Tom's mother, who's since passed away, encouraged Stephen to sign up on a naval database for surviving relatives.

"Out of the clear blue, he got a phone call," Tom said.

It was an invitation to send in DNA to compare with Ed's. Last fall, they got word that it was a match.

"There was a place already set aside for him when Stephen contacted them to say, Uncle Ed is coming home," Tom said.

The voyage home for Ed has become an unlikely reunion for his descendants. Some of them say they haven't seen each other for 30 years. In some cases, they're meeting each other for the first time.

"A once in a lifetime opportunity to honor a fallen sailor," Tom said.

With motorcycles and deputies, the families got a first class escort from the funeral home in Athens to Huntsville International Airport to await the arrival.

"We were thinking, what would Uncle Ed think about all this?" Margaret said.

As the jet landed, a rare cloud appeared in the 95-degree heat to give a few moments of shade for the family to watch the procession.

"It's not sadness, it's going to be a joy and celebration," Stephen said.

A joyous weekend for this family, who flew in from all over the country, for one last salute to great Uncle Ed.

Ed's funeral happens at 2 p.m. Monday with visitation being held on Saturday.

He died at 40, but his family says he also had two nephews in the Army, one wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and another was awarded the Silver Star for actions in the Pacific.

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