When the remains of two Oklahoma airmen who were killed in action were returned to the Sooner State recently, it added another chapter to an already intriguing history for a couple of area families.

No, the pair had not been killed in action during the ongoing Iraqi War. Rather, the odyssey for Staff Sgt. Wilburn W. Rozzell of Duncan and Tech Sgt. Alfred Wesley Hill of Tyler, a small community near Madill, began after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress declared war the following day.

Rozzell, Hill and seven other crewmen were on a mission near Monrobe Province, New Guinea, aboard a B-24 Liberator on Nov. 5, 1943, when they destroyed a Japanese ship. A short time later their pilot reported his bomber was low on fuel. The men were never heard from again. After search parties came up empty, the nine airmen were classified as missing in action.

But that changed in 2002 when New Guinean villagers stumbled onto the remains of the downed soldiers. After a three-year identification process and more than six decades after the airmen were killed in action on a faraway Pacific island near Australia, their remains were released to their families.

Rozzell’s and Hill’s families have been haunted by their losses all these years.

“Ever since I can remember, this has been a mystery in my family — what became of my uncle?” Larry Forbes, Wilburn Rozzell’s nephew, told the Oklahoman. “Naturally, this was always a topic of conversation with my grandmother (Goldie Rozzell). She was obsessed with finding him and looked for him until the day she died. ...”

Wilburn Rozzell’s sister, 81-year-old LaVoice Forbes, was 18 when news was received back home that her brother was missing in action. She mourned his death while celebrating his heroism in funeral services April 15. Hill will be memorialized in a separate ceremony April 28 at Comanche.

Certainly, the services will provide some sense of closure for both families after six decades of despair. While their intensity of distress may have eased somewhat by the passage of time, all those years of soul searching must have been a huge burden to carry.

Now, both their loved ones and their uncertainties can be laid to rest.

Two Oklahoma World War II veterans performed with heroism while under enemy fire. Their survivors may never learn the full details of how the B-24 was brought down in November 1942. Nevertheless — for them — the final chapter is complete. Tech Sgt. Alfred Wesley Hill and Staff Sgt. Wilburn W. Russell are finally back home — back to the state they were proud of, back home where they belong, back home where we all should give them a final salute for their courage.