Sixty-nine years ago, Army Air Forces Sgt. Charles Robert Marshall of Floyd County said goodbye to his 19-year-old wife Dixie and their one-year-old son Robert David and went off to fight in World War II.
The elder Marshall's B-24 bomber came under attack by German fighter planes on July 21, 1944, and was presumed to have been shot down in unidentified territory. Though he was declared dead after a few years, Marshall's family did not know what had happened to him.
But on Wednesday, Dixie Hyden, now 89, and her son, Floyd County Judge-Executive Robert David Marshall, 70, will travel to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to meet an airplane carrying the remains of their late husband and father, who most people called Bob.
"It means absolute closure for me," Hyden said in a telephone interview Friday. "I never dreamed it would be 69 years before we'd ever know what really happened to him. We didn't know what country he was in. They just knew that he was missing in action."
Marshall had graduated from the old Martin High School in 1942 and enrolled at Duke University to pursue a degree in engineering before deciding to enlist in the Army Air Forces.
On the night before Bob Marshall, then 19, left Floyd County for the last time, he bought his wife an identification bracelet. He had the names Bob and Dixie engraved on it, she said.
"He said I won't take this off until I come home," said Hyden.
The bracelet would be one of the clues that would help bring Bob Marshall home.
Discovery in the forest
About four years ago, Robert David Marshall said in an interview Friday, he received telephone calls from a man who described himself as a German naturalist. The man said he had found American military plane parts and human remains in the woods. The naturalist said he turned what he found over to U.S. military officials.
Marshall said that in 2012, military officials asked him to go to Indianapolis to take a DNA test so that a decision could be made on whether to proceed with excavating the area where the plane parts were found. The late Marshall still had a living uncle who also submitted DNA. The match was conclusive, said Marshall.
After one year of extensive excavation, military officials told the county judge executive in March that they had further evidence that the remains were his father's.
"They found the identification bracelet, a piece of it that still had my mother's name on it," he said.
Dixie Hyden said she knew that her late husband had been found when her son told her about the bracelet.
"What's the chances of almost 70 years later," finding something that had lay "dormant for that long," she said.
Marshall said the excavation also led to the discovery of his father's dog tags, which still bore legible writing.
The Department of Defense's Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office website confirmed that Marshall had been lost near Drobling, Germany in World War II, and was listed as accounted for April 9.
After her husband was declared dead, Hyden remarried and had four additional children.
One of them, Debra Burke of Floyd County, said Friday that all of the children understood "the cost of war" because of the unanswered questions left when Bob Marshall went missing.
Life went on for Hyden, who became a nurse. She worked in the practice of her son, Prestonsburg physician Alan J. Hyden, until his death about eight months ago.
But she said every time she heard about remains being found of a World War II soldier, she wondered "Could that have been Bob?"
A memorial service with full military honors will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Hall Funeral Home at Martin.
Marshall will be buried at 11 a.m. Saturday at Davidson Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Floyd County.
Marshall said he is anxiously awaiting the arrival of his father's remains, which are being brought from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. A military escort will follow the family from the airport to the funeral home in Floyd County.
"I just turned 70 and I've lived my whole life not knowing anything about where my father's plane had crashed," Marshall said.
"It's just an amazing story."
Officials recently gave back to Dixie Hyden the identification bracelet her husband had given her so many years ago.
"I remember putting it on his arm," she said.