For their entire lives, two sisters heard stories from the father about Uncle Frank.
"He's always told us he was a great big brother; he looked out for him growing up,” said Lanna Sandoval.
Frank Louis Masoni, raised in Gilroy, was the oldest of four boys who became a U.S. Marine. Masoni would be killed in the South Pacific during World War II in 1943. The family never knew what happened to his body.
"Just that he was missing in action,” said Sandoval, Frank Masoni's niece.
Last year, the family requested a DNA test from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. They did a cheek swab on their father, Richard Masoni, and sent it back.
In September, Richard Masoni received a phone call. The person on the other line told him his DNA matched a marine buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. It was his brother Frank, finally identified 74 years after he was killed.
“Our dad called and said, ‘You’re never going to believe this.’ He said, ‘I got a call from the Marines, they identified my brother.’ We said wow,” said Clorinda Sergi, Frank Masoni's niece.
The military sent the family service medals Frank earned, including a purple heart. They learned new information about how he died in the Battle of Tarawa on the Gilbert Islands. About 1,000 marines and sailors were killed. Masoni was working as a cook on a ship when he was sent in to fight.
“He was one of the ones that made it and lasted a day on the island. He died the second day,” Sandoval said.
“My grandmother had actually sent letters (to the Marines) after my Uncle Frank's death … every year, she wrote a letter saying, ‘Please if you find his body please, I want him brought home.'"
The sisters’ father, Richard Masoni, is 90 and still lives in Gilroy. When he was 16 years old, he dropped his brother off at the bus stop to leave for war. Frank’s body will soon be returned, 74 years after he died.
“I’m just glad it's happening in my dad's lifetime,” Sandoval said. “And he's able to see his brother make it back to Gilroy.”