For more than 70 years a tree protected the remains of a World War II fighter pilot from Washington state whose plane crashed in Germany in 1945.
The remains of Army Air Forces 1st Lt. William Gray of Kirkland were returned to his family Friday for a burial at Tahoma National Cemetery with full military honors.
The 21-year-old Gray was on a dive-bombing mission on April 16, 1945, when his single-seat P-47D aircraft clipped a tree and crashed in Lindau.
The Defense POW/MIA said investigators recovered Gray’s remains last year. Two people who saw Gray’s plane go down told the investigators where to look, Q13 Fox reported Friday. The investigators were in Lindau on another recovery mission.
“The bones they found were embedded in the tree,” Gray’s niece Jan Bradshaw told the station.
Her brother Doug Louvier added, “It grew over his remains and really protected and marked the spot.”
Gray was buried side-by-side with his best friend—Bradshaw and Louvier’s father.
Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Jim Louvier returned home from the war and was 89 when he died in 2010.
As they went off to the war together after enlisting, Louvier made a pact with his buddy. They each promised to take care of the other’s family if anything happened to either one of them.
Bradshaw told the station that her father kept his word. He married Gray’s younger sister, her mother.
“I know he loved her dearly and committed to her for 64 years before he died,” she said of her father.
Louvier was cremated after he died but his children didn’t know what do with the ashes—until Friday.
“We couldn’t decide what to do and now we know why,” Bradshaw said.
This story originally appeared on foxnews.com