James Waite of Mexico received a plaque that included his brother’s dog tags and other artifacts found near the crash site of the B-26 Marauder that his brother, John Waite Jr., was flying in during World War II. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

MEXICO — In his 85 years, James Waite has never received a more important and valuable package than the one he received in the mail Monday morning.

“That’s the best Christmas present ever,” said James’ wife, Jacqueline. “A wonderful Christmas present for all of us.”

In the package were the dog tags from his late brother, John Waite Jr., who died in 1944 during a bombing mission over France during World War II. The tags were recently discovered 75 years later by a group of French citizens called Amicale Aeocrash, who volunteer their time to research American crash sites and seek to return potential family heirlooms as a way of thanking the U.S. for helping France during WWII.

Dog tags, worn around the neck on a chain, are used to help identify dead or wounded soldiers.

In addition to John Waite Jr.’s dog tags, the package included small pieces of the plane, a religious medal, coins, maps, including one marking the location of the crash site, and a letter from the group.

The volunteer group “Amicale AeroCrash Normandy WWII” sent a thank you card, along with information about what was found at the crash site of the plane that Sgt. John Waite Jr. was a gunner in when it crashed. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“The whole team is happy to have been able to find a very personal object of John and to hand it to his brother James, who knew very little of his brother,” Patrick Bossard, part of the French research team, said in an email to the Sun Journal.

According to James Waite, the volunteers based in Normandy, France, took several weeks to locate the Waite family. They researched genealogy sites, military records and finally contacted the Rumford Historical Society to find them.

Jean Marc Deveaux, a representative of the French group that found the dog tags, wrote in his initial letter to James Waite that, “I’m a member of an association that conducts diggings on World War II crash sites. We all are mobilized to honor lost pilots and soldiers.”

In the letter, Deveaux said he found the dog tags while digging near the crash site and described his efforts to locate the family.

The group wrote about finding the Waite dog tags in a recent bulletin for the Historical Society of Lisieux.

The family is grateful for all the work the French group did to locate and return the missing dog tags.

“They’re a club,” James Waite said. “They research these crash sites. That’s what these people do. And they sent a very nice letter.”

That letter thanks them for John’s sacrifice.

They showed a similar level of appreciation to the U.S. in an email to the Sun Journal when their note ended with, “Thank you and all our friendships to the Americans, our liberators.”

Ten years older than his brother James, John graduated from high school and worked briefly in the Rumford area paper mills before joining the Army Air Corps on Oct. 31, 1942. Waite rose to the rank of sergeant and served as a turret gunner on a B-26B Marauder, a twin-engine bomber. The medium-altitude plane had much success in the war eliminating bridges, roads, factories and other targets in Germany and occupied France.

According to military records, on Aug. 7, 1944 — two months after D-Day — Waite and his crew of eight boarded the B-26B and took off from their home base in Holmsley South, Hampshire, England, on a bombing mission to Nogent sur-Seine in France.

Little is known about their specific mission, but on the return flight, flak from German anti-aircraft guns struck the plane near the engine and bomb bay doors. It crashed in flames near Lisieux, France, killing the entire crew. John Waite was 19 years old.

Crews needed to complete a certain number of missions to fulfill their duty. Waite only had “a few missions left before completing his service,” James Waite said.

The remains of the crew were originally buried in a French cemetery before moved to the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1950.

James was 9 years old when his brother died.

“I don’t recall a lot,” he said. “I remember one time when he came home and a lot of people were there. He was a good ski jumper. You didn’t think a lot about those things back then.”

Too young for WWII, James joined the Navy and served on a destroyer from 1952-56. Afterward, he spent more than 40 years working in the pulp and paper industry.

The discovery sparked a lot of discussion among Waite’s  extended family about the relative who died more than 75 years ago. James, who was predeceased by another brother and a sister, is the last of his generation still alive.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” daughter Kathy Billings said. “My dad at 85 is the last one left from the family.

Sgt. John Waite Jr. was a gunner on a B-26 Marauder that went down near Normandy during World War II. His dog tags were found recently and given to his brother James, of Mexico. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Pictures of the plane crash site and related artifacts where World War II gunner Sgt. John Waite Jr. died were recently sent to his brother James Waite, 85, of Mexico. The B-26 Marauder was shot down near Normandy, France. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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