TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Sgt. John Thompson, a British World War II special operation flight engineer, was considered missing in action for more than 70 years. Not anymore.
On Monday, his 92-year-old sister Dorothy Webster received his ring from a family in Albania together with a box of debris from his Halifax bomber. The plane, with a seven-member crew onboard, had crashed in the eastern European country on Oct. 29, 1944 whilst transporting assistance to local anti-Nazi fighters.
In 1960, late Jaho Cala found Thompson's finger with the ring at the Sinoi Mountain, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the Albanian capital Tirana. He kept the ring and hid it at his home, afraid to show it to the then-communist authorities.
Cala asked his son Xhemil to look for the family of the owner and after he died, Xhemil contacted the embassies of the U.S. and Britain — the two countries that helped liberate Albania from the Nazis a month after Thompson's death.
After three months, the British embassy confirmed the ring was Thompson's and told his family and the families of the other six crew members.
"70 years we've waited. We can't believe that we're here today celebrating this after all this time," said Webster, who was accompanied by other family members at a ceremony at the Albanian Defense Ministry. "My father would have been thrilled to pieces with it all."
"All these years it has been a story of loss," said one of her sons, Alan Webster. "We now know almost everything that happened. It's a sense of closure. We know where John is. He's over there in the mountain."
Alan's brother Brian Webster said their grandparents never locked their house in Matlock, Derbyshire county, in the Britain because they were waiting for their missed son. British authorities never told them anything about Thompson because he was part of "a secret operation in Albania," the family said.
After the U.S. and U.K. embassies started to piece together bits of evidence surrounding the ring it emerged that the initials "Joyce & John" engraved inside it belonged to Thompson and his newly-wedded wife, Joyce.
Joyce married again after losing John and Webster family members said she had already passed away.
With only the ring and a little plane debris found until now, Barry Hill, another of Thompson's nephews, said they would come again in some months to go to the crash site.
Albania was first occupied by fascist Italy in 1939 and then by Nazi Germans in 1943. Led by the communist party, its partisans liberated the country on Nov. 29, 1944.
"Your brother, Mrs. Webster, helped liberate my country. Let his memory remain unforgettable," said Albanian Defense Minister Mimi Kodheli.
Xhemil Cala said he is relieved to have fulfilled his father's testament to return the ring to the owner's family.
"I will go to his grave and say rest in peace for your dying wish has been fulfilled," he said.
Nebi Qena of the Associated Press television contributed to this report.