Finding Uncle Buster
Locating the remains of missing World War II pilot Walter “Buster” Stone was a labor of love for the team of UW researchers and students who journeyed to his crash site near Saint-Omer, France, in August 2018. Putting together our cover story on the recovery efforts was a labor of love, too — and an emotional experience for our staff.
Writer Chris Barncard explains how volunteers from the UW’s Missing in Action Recovery and Identification Project collaborated with the U.S. Department of Defense to return 2nd Lt. Stone to his hometown of Andalusia, Alabama, where he received a proper burial 76 years after his death. Barncard was touched by the family’s gratitude during his interview with Mark Stone, the pilot’s great-nephew.
“This was the third time the MIA Project had identified the remains of a missing serviceman,” Barncard says. “Even though I’ve written stories about each case, I really wasn’t prepared for Mark Stone. He was so grateful and happy and relieved for his family. He wanted to thank anyone from Wisconsin he could find. They’ve been telling stories about Uncle Buster for generations, and they’ll be telling them generations from now. But now UW–Madison will be part of those stories, and you can’t help but be proud to be part of an institution that can change lives that way.”
On Wisconsin photographer Bryce Richter traveled to France to document the excavation, pitching in with a shovel when the team needed an extra pair of hands. Richter came back with more photos than we could use in the magazine, so we’ve included additional images online at onwisconsin.uwalumni.com. The online package also includes his evocative video from the site.
“This assignment was not only an amazing experience — it was an honor to help tell the story of the recovery efforts by the team in France,” Richter says. “Experiencing the dedicated work they performed and having a front-row view to such an important project is something I’ll always remember.”
In a divided world, we’re proud to celebrate an expedition that brought together fellow Americans from Wisconsin and Alabama and left all of us with a profound feeling of closure.
Published in the Fall 2019 issue