The program for the ceremony. Submitted photo

Many people attended the funeral service for at the Phillips Area Community Center for Sgt. Gravelin Paula Kane photo

Gavlin’s Purple Heart medal, awarded for wounds he received in action resulting in his death, was one of several awards present to Susan White during the ceremony at PACC. General Douglas Farnum presented The Purple Heart to Sue White, Sgt. Gravlin’s great-niece. Paula Kane photo

The folded flag was presented to Sue White. Paula Kane photo

Color Guard at Cemetery on Mile Square. Paula Kane photo

PHILLIPS – A little less than 80 years ago, Sergeant Zelwood Alpha Gravlin of Phillips was pronounced MIA after his plane did not return from Operation TIDAL WAVE during World War II. On the day after Veteran’s Day, 2022, he finally returned home and now rests beside his mother, Ida Gravlin, at the Mile Square Cemetery in Avon.

The bittersweet homecoming was honored by a large gathering of family and friends held at the Phillips Area Community Center on Depot Street. Proclaimed “a celebration, not a mourning”, it was a celebration of Gravlin’s life and his homecoming. The special memorial was also a tribute to the service of this soldier who “made the ultimate sacrifice for his country”.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America, former State Senator Tom Saviello, speaking on behalf of the family, welcomed those in attendance, noting, “I’m sure wherever Zelwood is, he’s looking down and smiling…”

Saviello shared the story of Operation Tidal Wave, which was launched in January of 1943. This bombing raid on the most important oil refineries, which circled the city of Ploesti in southeast Romania, resulted in the loss of 51 of the 177 bomber pilots that took off from Benghazi, Libya. One of these was Sgt. Gravlin, 20 years old at the time, a gunner on “Four Eyes”, the B-24 Liberator.

Saviello next introduced General Douglas Farnum, Adjutant General, Maine National Guard, who also stated what “an incredible honor” it was to be present. He commended Gravlin’s family “for the persistence and effort to make this day possible.”

Farnum recognized all Veterans as “our heritage”, saying, “You brought us our customs and traditions. In this case, it’s a little more solemn because it reminds us of the ultimate sacrifice that those of us who put on the uniform are sometimes asked to make…a good reminder, an important reminder of what service can mean…(Such sacrifices) are not only for our own freedoms, not for our own front yards, but it’s for things that we hold dear that we spread to the entire world. It’s what makes America great.”


On behalf of the Governor, the State of Maine, and the Army International Guard, Farnum presented several awards to Sue White, Sgt. Gravlin’s great-niece.

The first award was in recognition of officers in WWII, a coin that goes to WWII Veterans. Other awards included the State Silver Star Honorable Service Medal in recognition of honorable service in the armed forces of the United States and for his award of a Purple Heart. The last was the Gold Star Honorable Service Medal presented to Gravlin’s family for “the ultimate sacrifice during WWII”.

Before introducing the next special guest, Saviello share a poem written by a local poet, The Warrior’s Epithet: “When it comes my time to go, I hope with fervent zeal, that my merits have been proven on life’s battlefield enough to earn for me one small place of rest just over the other side beyond the reach of death.”

LTC Gregory M. Watson, USAF, Commander of 343rd Bomb Squadron to which Sgt. Gravlin was assigned at the time of his passing on August 1, 1943. Speaking to Sue, he stated what a “tremendous honor” it was getting to know you as they worked together to prepare for this memorial event.Stating that he has been looking forward to this day very much, he also stated, “It has been one of the highlights of the last few months of my life…a pleasure getting to know you and your family.”

Then, on a lighter note which elicited a burst of laughter from the audience, he remarked how “good it is to be here in Maine, particularly in an area of Maine that, quite frankly, I never thought I’d get to visit.” Watson also spoke of the honor of being present at this celebration of Gravlin’s life as one of “our brothers” was laid to rest. “And he was a brother, 343rd Bomb Squadron” Watson continued, “And we are here to celebrate that today.” He reminded the gathering “that there are still over 20,000 families that lost a loved one and are still waiting for the moment like this.”

Stressing the vital importance of bringing lost Veterans home and noting heavy toll some soldiers pay in service to their country, he stated, “Sgt. Gravlin and his crew gave the last full measure in defense of our freedoms.”


Watson continued, “Operation Tidal Wave, or Black Sunday, as some came to know it, marked the second highest lost suffered by the Army Air Force in a single mission in WWII.

“We lost over 600 of our brothers that day from the 343rd Bomb Squadron alone. Behind every man, there is a family and an extended family just like this family and friends sitting in this room today…I want you to know that Sgt Gravlin and 1000s of others, men and women who lost their lives, are not forgotten and will never be forgotten…We are all able to do what we do today because of the service and sacrifice of airmen like Sgt. Gravlin.”

In American cemeteries in Europe, Watson also explained, when a person is unknown, the headstone reads: Here lies in honored glory an American soldier known but to God. Once identified, a rosette is placed upon the Wall of Honor signifying that this person has been identified.

“Today another rosette will be placed. Sgt. Gravlin will be laid to rest here in the Maine soil under his own name and with his own family.”

Several presentations were made to Sue and Gravlin’s family. These included a plaque of remembrance from the 307th Bombing and particularly the 343rd Bombardment Squadron to Sgt. Gravlin, and “several other mementoes, as well…” – a squadron patch, with the exact insignia the squadron used in WWII; a coin from the group commander, in keeping with the importance of coins in the military as symbols of excellence and of a united unit; another coin “which you need to have on you always…”, the 343rd squadron coin.

Before continuing with presentations, Saviello read a second poem titled “Forever Young”, which concluded with the words: Do not forget…the ultimate price they paid; they are young, with hopes and dreams in an uncertain world, fighting someone else’s war in someone else’s country, to suffer and die, and remain forever young.”


Next, Saviello invited Senator Russell Black, Representative-elect Mike Soboleski, Franklin County Commissioner Robert Carleton, and Representative Scott Landry to come forward to make the next presentation to the family. Having known the family for several years, Senator Black spoke on behalf of this group, stating, “It’s such an honor and privilege to be just a part of this ceremony welcoming home Sgt. Zelwood Gravlin.”

Black introduced Soboleski, who read the memorial which Black sponsored:

“On behalf of the people of the State of Maine, the citizens of Franklin County and the members of the 130th Legislature of the State of Maine, in memoriam: Whereas the Legislature has learned with deep regret of the death of Zelwood A. Gravlin…a sergeant of the US Army/Air Force who was killed during WW2 and whose remains were accounted for on July 12, 2020. On August 1, 1943, the B52 Liberator aircraft on which S. Gravlin was serving as an armorer gunner was hit by enemy aircraft fire and crashed during Operation Tidal Wave, the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries in Romania. His remains were finally identified by the Defense POW/MIA accounting agency and will be interred on Nov. 11, 2020 in Avon. We extend our gratitude for Gravlin’s service.

Therefore, be it resolved that we, the members of the Senate and House of Representatives pause in a moment of understanding and prayer to inscribe this token of sympathy and condolence to all who share this great loss and respectively request that when the legislature adjourns this date it do so in honor and lasting tribute of the deceased. Thank you.”

Next to speak was Rob McCann from US Senator Jared Golden’s office.

“It’s really humbling to be here today to be able to see this process come full circle,” McCann began before reading the message which welcomed Sgt. Gravlin back home.


“On behalf of my boss… To the family of Sgt. Gravlin… “Sgt. Gravlin exemplified the very best of what of nation has to offer…Liberty and justice are values worth fighting for and by making the ultimate sacrifice while defending…against the forces of tyranny, Sgt. Gravlin and the rest of the Four Eyes crew…for that we owe Sgt. Gravlin and his entire generation an eternal debt…

It is especially heartwarming to know that at last Sgt. Gravlin will be reunited with his mother in Avon… I hope this process helps bring closure to your family and increases the community’s awareness of those who have helped to preserve the world we all enjoy today. On behalf of the 2nd Congressional District, it is an honor to see Sgt. Gravlin reunited with the place where he truly belongs.”

Other presentations included The Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement while sustaining an aerial flight; the Purple Heart, established by General George Washington in 1782, ‘for wounds received in action resulting in his death on August 1, 1943 in Romania, given under my hand in the city of Washington, this 3rd day of August, 2022. Signed Brigadier General Gregory F. Johnson, the Adjutant General of the United States Army and Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth.

A special flag folding ceremony was held, followed by a Twenty-one Gun Salute, the playing of Taps. The folded flag was presented to Sue White.

Saviello shared his rendition of a poem written by Charles M. Province, US Army, on November 1, 2004. Saviello personalized the poem by exchanging the phrase “It is the soldier” to “It is Gunner Gravlin”…

It is Gunner Gravlin, not the minister


Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is Gunner Gravlin, not the reporter

Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is Gunner Gravlin,not the poet

Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is Gunner Gravlin, not the campus organizer


Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is Gunner Gravlin, not the lawyer

Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is Gunner Gravlin, not the politician

Who has given us the right to vote.

It is Gunner Gravlin, who salutes the flag,


Who serves beneath the flag,

And whose coffin is draped by the flag,

Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

To close the special ceremonies welcoming Sgt. Gravlin home, relative Erin Smith sang “Amazing Grace.”.

A long procession of vehicles accompanied Gravlin to the cemetery on Mile Square where the interment service was conducted by Father Paul Dumais. Though the day had previously been stormy, cloudy and gray, at almost the exact moment that Father Dumais offered the final “Amen”, the sun burst through to shine on Sgt. Gravlin, along with his family, extended family, and friends, as he was, at last, brought home.

During the week following the special service welcoming Sgt. Gravlin home at last, Sue White, Gravlin’s great-niece, spoke about the years her great-grandmother, Gravlin’s mother, Ida Gravlin, spent worrying, wondering, and waiting for word of her son who had been missing in action since 1943. Though that declaration was amended to “killed in action” a few years ago, Gravlin’s mother never truly believed her son would never return alive until the day his personal effects were returned to her along with a letter he had written just three days before his fatal mission.


“She and her son wrote religiously back and forth,” Sue said, “This letter had been stamped and sealed, but never sent.

“As long as I’m alive,” Ida Gravlin declared, “this letter is not to be opened.”

An 8X10 photograph stood in a place of honor on the mantel, but the missing son was never spoken of.

When Ida Gravlin passed away in 1975, the letter, which had remained sealed for 60 years, was finally opened. It contained “just this and that”, a casual letter from the son who was away at war, along with the strong request to “Please stop sending me so much postage and envelopes!”

Sue’s father, Rodney Harnden, worked for years with Senators and Representatives from state and nation and the military to try to find the missing soldier, with no results.

When Harnden died, Sue promised her father that she would get his brother home, that she would keep working to find Zelwood Gravlin. On November 12, 2022, her promise was kept.


“I couldn’t have done this,” Sue stated emotionally, “without all the help from so many people – just so many.”

It was in 2017 that Gravlin’s remains, along with others buried in a cemetery in Belgium, were returned to the United States. However, it was not until July of this year that Sue finally got the call, “We’ve found him.”

“I’m amazed at all the science and technology that finally allowed the identification,” Sue declared, “It’s like a cloud has finally lifted after so many years.”

DNA from a cousin, Terry Worcester, documented for future reference in 2015, was the final link in the mystery. Gravlin’s body was brought into Boston in a flag-draped mahogany coffin. Seventy-nine years after being declared missing, Sgt. Zelwood Gravlin was at last coming home.

In keeping with the momentous occasion, the container in which the flag now rests has been engraved with the words, “Mom, I’m home”.

Sgt. Gravlin’s family would like to thank the following: The US Army; Fort Drum Contingent; Sarah L. Scott, SFC US Army; Scott Adams, Adam’s Funeral Home; Brian Donovan; Chris and Julie Hardy, Edmunds’ Market; American Legion Post 28, Farmington; Phillips Post 64; Phillips Area Community Center (PACC); Bruce Godin, Winona Davenport; Father Paul Dumais; Paul Harnden; and so many others. 

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