He began with Saipan because he had already gathered information about the battle while working to successfully identify Lt. Woodie Lackland McVay Jr., a Navy pilot from Mobile, Ala., who was shot down over the Pacific island on Feb. 22, 1944. The military verified the match in May 2009, nearly three years after Sgt. Darcy first contacted Lt. McVay’s family.
Sgt. Darcy looks to match details such as race, dental records, shoe size, height, weight, broken bones and even wedding-ring inscriptions from unidentified bodies. If 90 percent of the factors match, he contacts the subject’s family members to gather more details.
As he closed in on Lt. McVay’s case, Darcy had matched every detail but one: a discrepancy in the dental records. The pilot’s MIA file showed him missing an upper right tooth in the sixth position. The autopsy of his suspected remains showed a neighboring tooth missing. Darcy said he showed the records to a forensic dentist who determined from an arcane notation that one of the neighboring teeth had drifted toward the gap and been misnumbered by a technician.
“It was one of those little quirky things that had to be worked out,” Sgt. Darcy said.
Lt. McVay’s granddaughter Elizabeth Huff helped Darcy with some of the details. She said she sometimes wondered during the process whether finding out what happened to Lt. McVay was worth the pain she knew it was causing his remarried, 89-year-old widow to recall details about her first husband.
“But when my grandfather’s body came off the plane at Pensacola, she whisked right past me, rushed right up to the coffin and patted it up and down,” Ms. Huff said. “I knew right away I had done the right thing.”