Arizona Woman Hopes to Recover her Uncle’s Remains from WW2

William Morrison

A woman from Arizona believes that a discovery of the biggest lake in Italy could lead to the recovery of the remains of her uncle who was among of the 24 men who died in a tragic accident during the last days of World War II. Mary Morrison-Kinnear, residing at Phoenix, Arizona, is still hopeful that she could someday find the remains of Pvt. William Charles Morrison Jr., her uncle who has lost 68 years ago.

In 1945, William was deployed in Northern Italy as a private in Company B, 605th Field Artillery Battalion in the 10th Mountain Division. He joined the Army on Dec. 11, 1941 with his older brother Robert James Morrison (Mary’s father) and his father, William Charles Morrison Sr. Since his father was too old, only William and his older brother were enlisted in the Army. His brother was sent to Europe and later to the Pacific.

On April 30, 1945, the soldiers of the 605th Field Artillery Battalion, including William, were tasked to transport supplies and ammunition across Lake Garda to an American military camp near its northern tip. However, the weather was bad. Strong winds and violent waves rocked the DUKW, which carried William and other 24 men. The vehicle began taking in water. The men threw heavy equipment overboard to save their lives but it was a lost cause. Twenty-four men drowned that night, including William. Only one survived.

The sad part was that the accident happened so close to the end of the war. Twenty-four hours after the accident, the Germans surrendered in Italy.  Mary said that her grandmother could not accept that her son died. She said that her grandmother used to tell her that, “I want your Uncle Billy to come home.” “She waited 40 years for him to come home. That was her only wish,” Mary said of her grandmother, Lena Cleveland Morrison. Until her death in 1984, her grandmother held on to that wish.

It was hard for the family to believe that William was dead. No body was found. “There was no comfort until the body is returned,” Mary said. However, there is still a glimmer of hope for Mary. Garda Volunteer Group, an Italian group of volunteer divers, started a search for the missing ruins of the accident. Equipped with a sonar device, the group explored 900 feet down into the lake.

“We saw the camera hovering over a vehicle … and we could see the insignia of the U.S. Army,” said Luca Turrini, a spokesperson of the group. The group confirmed that a WWII DUKW is spotted on the bottom of the lake. However, there is no confirmation yet if it is the same DUKW that carried the 24 soldiers. The group plans to resume its work this year or early next year.  This is a positive development for Mary and her family. They remain optimistic that the remains of William will soon be recovered.

“It’s been almost 70 years. It’s about time. It’s never too late to bring him home,” Mary said. “I want to make sure that this is resolved before something happens to me. I want to bring my uncle home to his mother and father.”

Robert Manto

Robert Manto is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE