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Remains Of New Jersey Service Member Killed In Pearl Harbor Attack Identified Nearly 80 Years Later

CLAYTON, N.J. (CBS) -- The former mayor of a South Jersey town is remembering his brother, an enlisted Navy man who was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. After nearly 80 years, his brother's remains have been identified and are finally heading home for a proper goodbye.

Former Clayton mayor Gene Costill says he and his older brother, Harold, were so close they grew up sharing the same bed.

"I was 15 when he went into the service and that's the only thing he ever wanted to do was be in the Navy as a career," Costill said.

In 1941, then 18-year-old Harold went straight from boot camp to an assignment on the USS West Virginia, where he became a victim of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

harold costill
Credit: CBS3

"He was on duty that morning and they took a direct hit in the engine room," Gene said.

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Gene remembers the telegram messenger sat out front of his Clayton home for more than hour before delivering the news of his brother's death, which his mother never recovered from.

"From that time on, she kept watching the front door, he was going to come walking in," Gene said.

The wait to see Harold come home has lasted nearly 78 years. His unidentified remains were buried along others listed as missing in action in Hawaii. But the wait is almost over.

"Last week, they called and said 'We finally identified Harold Kendall Costill,'" Gene recalls.

By matching DNA samples Gene and his sister provided to the DNA from Harold's exhumed bones, military officials just confirmed the identity of his remains. That mean the family is entitled to receive them, and Harold finally gets to go home.

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"Oh God, that's a prayer answered," Gene said. "I was just hoping I would see him come home while I was still here. Somebody had to be here and I'm the last one."

Harold's remains are expected to arrive in Clayton in June when there will be a public funeral. Then, he'll be laid to rest in a family plot next to loved ones who missed him much too long.

"I think he's at peace now," Gene said.

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