Sixteen million Americans served during World War II. More than 400,000 would return home in caskets after being killed in the conflict. More so, 72,333 of the 400,000 would not return to their families, as they were still missing. That was the reality of the families whose sons, daughters, dads, or maybe moms never really made it back, whose last memory of them was leaving to fight for the country.

Best Friends and Brothers-at-hand

Two best friends would answer the call of World War II and enlist together to serve: First Lt. Jim Louvier and First Lt. Bill Gray. Before they went, the two made a pact that if one of them did not make it back home, the other would take care of the family of whoever would not make it back home.

First Lt. Jim Louvier screen captured from

First Lt. Louvier served as a bomber co-pilot, while his buddy Gray was a 391st Fighter Squadron, 366th Fighter Group member. In September of 1945, Louvier would return to Washington, and just two months later, he would marry Gray’s sister, Jeanne. However, Bill would sadly not witness the wedding of his sister and best friend as he did not make it back home.


On April 16, 1945, then 21-year-old Gray was on a dive-bombing mission in his single-seat P-47D Thunderbolt and flying near Lindau, Sachsen-Anhalt, in Germany when, according to his flight leader, his aircraft’s left wing clipped some trees and caused him to crash in Lindau. The world was just three weeks away from witnessing the war’s end when the mishap occured.

Lt. Bill Gray, screen captured from

In October 1948, the American Graves Registration Command recovered Bill Gray’s aircraft by correlating the serial numbers on the plane that Gray was last seen flying before the accident happened. Still, there were no signs of his body or anything that could point the investigators in the right direction as to where his remains might be.

As for his family, they were left with nothing but old photos and the more than 100 letters he wrote while he was still in the battlezone, saying that he had flown 68 missions at that time.

His sister Jeanne remembered Bill as a “very quiet but very brilliant” brother. He was the oldest among five siblings and joined the Army Air Forces in September 1942. And as his family wrote in his obituary, “Like many young men and women of his generation, Bill jumped to defend our country, enlisting along with his good buddy and future brother-in-law, James I. Louvier.”

Following his disappearance, his family received his scrapbook filled with news clippings about his successful missions. They also received letters he wrote, primarily addressed to his family. At one point, he even questioned who Jeanne was dating. Little did he know that his sister and best friend would end up being together.

Lt. Gray Comes Home

In the following years after his disappearance, there was no news about where Gray could be or if he perhaps miraculously survived the crash. Until 2012, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (now known as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency) was contacted and pointed to where Gray’s crash site was. The investigators who happened to be there and searching for a different missing soldier were flagged by witnesses who saw how Gray’s plane crashed, describing in detail what happened. With their help, the investigators managed to locate where Gray crashed, although they did not find his body.

In April 2016, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) started excavating the site until they found bones that they believed were Gray’s. His niece, Jan Bradshaw, said in an interview, “The bones they found were embedded in the tree.” While her brother Doug added, “It grew over his remains and really protected and marked the spot.”

DPAA sent the remains to their lab for anthropological analysis and historical research and analysis to make sure that the remains were really of Gray. The DNA matched with his two sisters, finally allowing the war hero to find his way back home.

In 2017, the remains of First Lt. William Gray finally returned to his family for a proper burial. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart.

As for Louvier, he passed away in 2010 at the age of 89. When he did, his family could not figure out where to bury his ashes, but upon his best friend’s return, they just knew what to do. So on July 14, 2017, the two were buried side by side with full military honors in Kent, Washington, at the Tahoma National Cemetery.