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Remains of WWII airman from NY identified in South Pacific

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UNDATED: This handout photo provided by the family, shows World War II airman Sgt. Dominick Licari, whose remains were identified nearly 70 years after his plane and two others slammed into a remote, jungle-covered mountainside in the South Pacific. (AP)

The remains of a World War II airman have been identified and will be flown back to his hometown in New York nearly 70 years after his plane and two others failed to return to their base in the South Pacific.

Sgt. Dominick Licari was 31 when his A-20 Havoc bomber crashed into a mountain in Papua-New Guinea on March 13, 1944. After two years of searches, the military presumed Licari to be dead, the Utica Observer Dispatch reported.

DNA samples provided by relatives matched those of Licari, whose remains were discovered in 2012 amid overgrown jungles, according to the report.

Augustus "Mort" Licari said Thursday he and his only other surviving sibling, Katherine Frank, of Darien, Conn., were notified last week their brother's bone fragments and dog tags were recovered last year at the crash site by a team from the U.S. Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command.

“Without that DNA bank, I doubt very much that they would have identified my brother’s remains,” Licari told the Utica Observer Dispatch.

Mort Licari said he was driving from New Jersey to his home in Summerfield, Fla., when he got the call informing him his brother's remains had been identified.

"I pulled over and kind of got myself together," Licari told The Associated Press Thursday.

The pilot of the doomed plane, 2nd Lt. Valorie Pollard, of California, also was killed and listed as missing in action.

Mort Licari said he and several nieces and nephews plan to be at the Albany airport when a plane with a casket bearing his brother's remains arrives Aug. 2. A military honor guard will carry the casket to a hearse, which will take the remains 70 miles west to Dominick Licari's hometown of Frankfort, where a funeral and burial will be held Aug. 6.

Officials at the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington confirmed Sgt. Licari's remains had been identified through DNA testing. Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan said none of the other bone fragments found at the crash site has been identified as Pollard's. They are included in a separate set of group remains believed to be those of Pollard and Licari that will be buried later, likely at Arlington National Cemetery.

Dominick Licari, the third oldest of nine children born to Italian immigrants, was a handsome, baseball- and trumpet-playing carpenter who took Mort to games so he could serve as catcher while his strong-armed big brother warmed up.

"The palm of my left hand would be throbbing," recalled Mort, an 85-year-old retired New Jersey court administrator.

Drafted in 1942, Dominick was the gunner on the two-man A-20 when it crashed in bad weather after returning from a bombing run against a Japanese airfield. Two other A-20s in the group hit the same mountain, killing six airmen in all. Of the four men in the other two planes, only the remains of one was recovered, according to the Pacificwrecks.com website, a database of World War II plane crash sites and MIA cases.

News of Dominick's death devastated his family, Mort Licari said.

"We prayed and held out hope he would be found, maybe injured," he said. "As the years went on, all we could hope for was he hadn't suffered."

After the military declared Dominick dead in early 1946, the family kept a grave marker with his name on it at the family plot in Frankfort, where he'll be buried alongside his parents and other siblings.

"Now that will be complete," Mort said. "There won't be any hollow spots in that ground."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here for more from the Utica Observer Dispatch.

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