DNA used to identify fallen Indiana troops who died during World War II, reuniting families

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INDIANAPOLIS — Two Indiana families now have the peace of knowing what happened to their Hoosier heroes. Both died more than 75 years ago. They never expected modern-day technology would reunite these families with their fallen Soldiers.

“It’s just… amazing. Emotions are running very high right now,” said The Great-Niece of Marine Corps Private First-Class Louis Weisehan, Kimberly Gardner.

After nearly a lifetime of waiting, the Indiana family is getting to welcome their honorable fallen Marine home. 

“We’re very fortunate that this happened to be able to bring him back now and positively identify him as our family,” said The Great- Nephew, Richard Weisehan.

Marine Corps Private First-Class Louis Weisehan died 77 years ago during World War Two at the age of 20.

“He ended up– he fought in Tarawa and that’s– he passed away. And they never got his body back,” said Richard.

Weisehan, originally from Richmond, lost his life on the second day of battle native lost his November 21, 1943.

In 1946, officials began to gather the remains of Soldiers and Marines who were killed in action to return them to family. After decades of waiting, it never happened.

In 2014, an organization dedicated to recovering American Service Members located a cemetery with the remains of 27 people killed in Tarawa. Louis was one of them.

“I remember driving in my truck, and I told my fiancé. They found Louis! That’s the last thing I expected to hear,” said Richard.

Officials used DNA from his great-niece Kimberly to positively identify him. Kimberly never met him.

On September 17, the day of his return, she made sure she was on the tarmac with three generations of her family waiting to honor her uncle’s sacrifice.

“When you see that coming off of the airplane it just takes your breath away to know that that’s your loved one that’s been missing for 77 years,” said Gardner.

It’s a similar story for Suzanne Omtvedt, the niece of Marine Corps Private First-Class Charles Miller of Albany. Miller died on the third day of battle at the age of 19.

“We talked about him a little bit you know my mother and my grandmother,” said Omtvedt.

Suzanne was told her uncle would not be recoverable.

Then the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reached out to Omtvedt last year after she purchased Ancestry.com kits for her daughters. That’s when they asked if she was a relative and if she’d be would allow them to use her DNA to try to make a match.

Then just before Memorial Day she got the news.

“It was pretty amazing they took the DNA from his femur and it was like a 99% match. So, it’s a miracle,” said Omtvedt.

She was born two years after Millers’ death. Although she never knew her uncle the artifacts now in her possession provide a glimpse of the few days he spent on the battlefield.

“I think what really hit me was when I received the necklace and the coins and the items from his body. It was overwhelming. How brave they were and how brave all the soldiers are who put their lives out for us in America. It’s just amazing,” said Omtvedt.

An emotional thanks not only to the soldiers and Marines who died, but to the organizations that work to bring together generations of family torn apart by war.

“It wraps it all up and puts it, it lays it to rest, finally — a peaceful rest, said a family member of Weisehan.

Weisehan was initially supposed to be buried in April but that was delayed until September due to COVID-19.

On October 23rd, Private First Class Charles Miller received full honors when he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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