CANAAN — For decades, the family of Richard G. Salsbury, a soldier who was killed in World War II, did not know what had happened to his remains.

Now, 79 years later, his family will have closure after officials were able to identify Salsbury’s remains and connect with his family. His burial is scheduled for Saturday afternoon in his hometown, Canaan.

“It’s exciting, it really is,” said Ann Walker, Salsbury’s niece. “I’ve got mixed feelings about it all. It’s really wonderful that they found his remains. At the same time, it’s really sad that World War II took away someone that would have been very influential in our family.”

U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Richard G. Salsbury of Canaan. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Human Resources Command

Salsbury, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Forces, was killed Aug. 1, 1943, while assigned to the 345th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bombardment Group, 9th Air Force.

The B-24 Liberator heavy bomber Salsbury was operating crashed after being hit during Operation Tidal Wave, the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries at Ploiesti, Romania. He was 19 years old and his remains were initially classified as missing in action.

Salsbury was awarded the Purple Heart medal, Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross and other military awards, according to his family.

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Salsbury’s remains were not identified when he died, and he was laid to rest in a cemetery in Romania. He was later disinterred by the American Graves Registration Command for identification.

An effort that began in 2017 to exhume and examine remains proved successful Sept. 23, 2021, when the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency used dental, anthropological and DNA analysis to identify Salsbury’s remains.

Walker said the military contacted her family in 2015, asking for a DNA sample from her father, Walter, who was Richard’s younger brother and died in 2017.

“At first, we thought it was a scam because there’s so many out there now,” Walker said.

But after being walked through the identification process, the family agreed to move forward.

Last September, Walker and her family learned the remains were those of Richard Salsbury.

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“It was really overwhelming,” Walker said. “And a little bit heart-wrenching.”

Although she never met her uncle, Walker said her father, who was 17 years old when his brother went missing in action, always paid tribute to him. Many of their conversations, she said, were about how difficult it was that Salsbury went into the military and was “MIA the next year, and that they never really knew the circumstances surrounding that.”

“We always knew of him because Dad always had both of his pictures on the wall and his medals,” Walker said. “He didn’t talk a lot about him, but we always knew there was Dad’s brother, Richard, that was missing in action in World War II. It’s kind of maddening.”

Salsbury is to be laid to rest at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fairview Cemetery in Canaan. Services are being organized by Smart & Edwards Funeral Home of Skowhegan.

“I am happy with the military’s persistence on finding all of our heroes,” Walker said. “It’s a really good feeling that they never stopped looking or investigating. I’m glad (Salsbury) is getting so much attention, because he deserves it. He gave his life away at a very young age.”

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