A hero comes home

The University of Wisconsin Madison MIA recovery and identification project

It was October 23, 1943, and the whiteout in the sky had separated 2nd Lt. Walter Stone, Buster — as he was known back in Andalusia, Alabama — from the rest of his Army Air Force 350th Fighter Squadron and the flight of B-26 Marauder bombers they were escorting to targets near Cambrai in Nazi-occupied northern France.

The last his squadron-mates heard from him, he was heading for England and would see them on the ground. But 2nd Lt. Stone never came out of the clouds. His plane was assumed crashed, and he was declared missing in action.

Using picks and shovels they carried into the forest every day, hauling dirt by buckets to sifting stations they built alongside the excavation site, the MIA Project group worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. They recovered identifying parts of Stone’s plane — like .50 caliber machine guns, gnarled by the force and heat of the crash — along with the pilot’s remains and some of his personal items. and Buster would finally come home to Andalusia. He was buried with military honors on May 11, 2019 — just days after what would have been his 100th birthday,

Buster was buried somewhere in France, but it would take nearly 75 years and a team of volunteers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Missing in Action Recovery and Identification Project to bring him home. When they got the green light from DPAA to mount a search at Stone’s suspected crash site on national forest land near Saint-Omer, the team was equipped with research and expertise across several academic disciplines.