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Remains of WWII airman come home after 68 years

For 63 years the body of James Austin Sisney lay on a remote Pacific island, visited only by the natives who live near the mountain where the Redwood City man’s Marine bomber crashed during World War II. Sisney and six other crew members died April 22, 1944, when their twin-engine plane slammed into a cliff face during a night training mission above Espiritu Santo, the largest island in the South Pacific archipelago now known as Vanuatu.

That information never reached the men’s loved ones, however. A military report on the crash disappeared amid the confusion of war, and the whereabouts of the plane became a mystery. Some families thought it had gone down in the ocean. They didn’t learn the truth until several years ago, when a persistent relative of one of the crew members discovered the crash site. As a result of that endeavor, Tech. Sgt. Sisney will return this week to the country he died protecting. A portion of his remains will be buried Friday with full military honors at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. A ceremony for the entire crew will take place in October at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

“I guess you could say it’s a little bit of closure,” said Robert Sisney Jr., of Sunnyvale, the man’s nephew and one of a handful of surviving relatives. He, his sister and half-sister will greet their uncle’s flag-draped coffin Thursday at San Francisco International Airport. much about his uncle, who died two decades before he was born. Robert’s father, who was James’ only sibling, was a man of few words and he didn’t volunteer information about the war.

Robert, a construction worker, said James Sisney spent the first years of his life in Livermore. The family later moved to Redwood City, and James graduated from Sequoia High School in 1942. Marguerite Richardson, 88, was a member of that graduating class. She remembers him as a tall, quiet redhead. “Not in any trouble,” Richardson said. “Just did his work.”

James joined the Marines in December 1942 at age 17. He was sent to the Pacific theater, where he became part of a bombing squadron known as the Seahorse Marines. He was just 19 when his PBJ-1D, a version of the B-25 bomber, failed to clear the summit of a mountain that rises more than 3,000 feet above the idyllic beaches of Espiritu Santo. Maj. John Palmer, commander of the aircraft group, learned of the wreckage a month later. He and a team of men, guided by natives, made the arduous hike up the steep, tangled mountainside to examine the plane.

“It obviously exploded upon impact, instantly killing all personnel, and then burned,” Palmer wrote in the report, unearthed more than a…

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