- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

NEWBURY, Mass. (AP) - Six decades after last seeing him, Elaine Byrne still has clear memories of her stepfather, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Francis H. Stamer who she called “Daddy Frank.”

“He was just a really wonderful person,” Byrne said. “I don’t know what I can tell you other than he was a father to me.”

An attorney and a member of the Newbury Board of Health, Byrne, 73, was only eight-years-old when she first met Stamer, who was already a heavily-decorated war veteran. He had earned both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his service in the European and Pacific theaters in World War II.

“He had a load of medals,” Byrne said. “My mother met him because we had relatives in Ayer and somehow she met him.”

Stamer left for Korea less than a year later and he would never return home. Thought to have been a prisoner of war, Stamer had been officially listed as legally dead when the war itself was declared over in 1953 and even though she spent very little time with her stepfather, Byrne said he had a major impact on her life.

“We were, in some ways more close to him than his actual family,” Byrne said. “Other than when he was a kid growing up, he was all over the place. He lived everywhere. I just adored him and he adored me. He wanted to adopt me but my real father was still alive and he wouldn’t go along with it which was very upsetting at the time. I look back at it now and I just wonder what would have happened if I had done that. I don’t know. You can never go back.”

Although heartbroken as a child, life went on for Byrne who, like her mother, would eventually marry a man named Frank and it was Frank’s fondness for military magazines that would bring the memory of Stamer back into Byrne’s life all over again in 2001.

“I don’t usually look through them and I was just thumbing through and I saw the article about the program that the Department of Defense had initialed and was called the Repatriation Program,” Byrne said. “So I started reading and the whole idea of this program was to reunite missing servicemen with their loved ones.”

Byrne kept reading and was soon on the phone with the Defense Department and eventually got in touch with her step cousins, George and Arthur Stamer, who provided the DNA samples needed to possibly find Stamer’s remains.

The remains were found last November. According to the U.S. Army, Stamer’s official date of death was Nov. 2, 1950, he was 37.

“When they say, the remains, there are only fragments of him,” Byrne said. “They haven’t really identified 50 percent of his body. It is just terrible. There are only like five bones, it was horrifying. It is like, ‘Where’s the rest of me?’”

With the winter fast-approaching, Byrne and the rest of the Stamer family decided to have Stamer buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery during the first week in May. While the American flag was given to Stamer’s remaining blood relatives, the replicas of his medals were kept in a case at the funeral to eventually be returned to Byrne.

“The only thing that upset me was that I didn’t get the medals at that time,” Byrne said. “They were the only tangible thing that I had to show because I don’t have my mother. We had all of his pictures and all of his medals and God knows what happened to them. But we don’t have them anymore.”

Last night, Stamer’s replica medals were escorted to Byrne’s home on Plum Island where they will eventually be passed down to Byrne’s own children, the end of an emotional roller coaster Byrne has been on for over 60 years.

“In the beginning, when I realized he was found, I was very elated,” Byrne said “But then, as the weeks went on, It became sadder and sadder. Then I couldn’t talk about it. I would start crying. Then I would get over that. But now, today, it is coming back again.”

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Information from: The Daily News of Newburyport (Mass.), http://www.newburyportnews.com

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