MESA, Ariz. (KNXV) — On July 16, 1945, a crew of seven aboard a B-17 crashed during a final cargo run at the end of World War II near Vils, Austria.
Russell O’Rourke's uncle died in the crash.
“He was 19 when he died, way too young,” said O'Rourke.
Born seven years after his death, Russell would inherit his uncle's name. A framed photograph is one of the few items left to remember him. That is until a year ago when he was contacted by the organization Get It Home United.
“We don’t consider it a success until it goes home,” said Ian Walker, a volunteer with the organization.
The organization's goal is to return lost military items to families across the nation.
Walker partners with metal-detecting enthusiasts and archeological explorers who find these items on battlefields.
Last year, at the sight of a B-17 crash in the Alps, one of those partners found a sterling silver World War II ID bracelet and buttons.
“It had his name on it, had his service number, remarkably good condition for you know being in the dirt for more than eighty years,” said Walker.
The name on it was Russell O’Rourke. Walker was contacted by the person who discovered it and went to work tracking down who this man was in hopes of finding his family.
“We do a lot of research. In some instances, the projects can take upwards of a year if not longer,” said Walker. “Since we began doing this in 2020, we’ve reunited items with more than seventy families. But it wouldn’t be possible without our incredible partners.”
This one would lead to a nephew in Mesa, Ariozona, with the same name.
“You don’t know what it means to me. It’s really emotional,” said O'Rourke.
O'Rourke's wife plans to fix the bracelet for her husband who will wear it with pride, honoring his uncle and sharing his story with everyone he can.
“I’ve always been proud of my name. Whoever wants to look at it can look at it,” said O'Rourke.
This story was originally reported by Cameron Polom on abc15.com.