World War II dog tag, ring returned to family

Mary Shostak opens a box containing a dog tag and class ring belonging to Felix Shostak as her husband, Charles, seated, looks on in Proctor, Vt.
Mary Shostak opens a box containing a dog tag and class ring belonging to Felix Shostak as her husband, Charles, seated, looks on in Proctor, Vt.Toby Talbot / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The family of a missing World War II veteran finally has a bit of closure.

Nearly six and a half decades after Felix Shostak's B-24 bomber was shot down over France, a twisted dog tag and a 1938 Proctor High School ring found last year at the crash site have been handed over to the turret gunner's family.

They are items Shostak was believed to have been wearing when he flew his last mission on Aug. 18, 1944, to attack a German fighter base in northern France.

On July 5, a member of the Vermont Army National Guard delivered the artifacts to the family.

Even though the details of the bomber's crash was well documented, the Shostaks never knew for sure what happened to Felix. In 1951, a letter from the Department of the Army told them they might never know because his remains weren't found at the crash site. The Army kept looking, but found nothing.

"Therefore, it is necessary to declare that the remains of your son are not recoverable," the letter addressed to the soldier's mother from the Department of Army said.

He was listed as missing.

Accepted his brother as dead
Charles Shostak, Felix's brother, a World War II vet wounded three times fighting in Europe, said he long ago accepted that his brother was dead. Their mother died in 1964 never knowing what happened to Felix.

"After I came out of the service, she and I had to sit down and just forget it," Charles Shostak said. "Her feeling was he's still around because he was missing in action."

** CORRECTS WHO FOUND THE DOG TAGS AND RING ** A dog tag and high school class ring that belonged to Felix Shostak are seen in Proctor, Vt., Thursday, July 10, 2008. In 1944, Felix Shostak was a crew member on a B-24 bomber that was shot down over France. His remains were never found. But recently, crash site investigators found Shostak's dog tags and his class ring, which have since been returned to Shostak's brother Charles. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)Toby Talbot / AP

Investigators at the crash site in northern France uncovered the artifacts last fall. It took six months, but through a relative in York, Pa., John Pena, investigators found Charles Shostak and his wife, Mary, in Vermont.

"It was a miracle," said Mary Shostak, 79, who never knew Felix.

However, the two artifacts aren't enough to change the soldier's status from missing to killed, said Shari Lawrence, a public affairs officer for the Army Human Resources Command in Alexandria, Va.

Shostak's name is inscribed on the Tablet of the Missing in the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium.

Only crew member to survive
Norman Grant, who parachuted to safety and was then captured by the Germans, was the only crew member of the bomber who survived the attack. In a brief memoir, Grant, who has since died, said it was believed Shostak and another missing crew member were consumed by fire after the crash.

Pena said he'd been told the Department of Defense might do another search of the site to look for human remains. Lawrence said she didn't know for sure, but it was possible.

"We're the only country in the world that goes out and actively seeks the recovery of missing service members," Lawrence said. "The promise of coming home to the States isn't one that has a statute of limitations on it."

Charles Shostak said he wasn't interested in going to Europe to see a memorial to the plane and its crew, near the spot where, in all likelihood, his brother died.

"I don't want to go back to see where he is. I am going to take it for granted," Shostak said. "This here is more to me than what I could see with my eye, a monument. That's how I feel. If I go over there, what would I see?"