SOUTH TAMPA — On Monday, Roger Strickland got the phone call his family had waited 71 years to receive.
In October 1942, his older brother, Hugh Gilbert “Buddy” Strickland, was one of the thousands of soldiers who died in the bloody Guadalcanal campaign in the South Pacific during World War II. Like so many others, his body wasn't recovered.
But, pending a DNA test, he finally might be coming home, Strickland said.
“I thought it would never happen,” he said.
The Marine who called on the telephone said officials had found 10 sets of remains, which now are in Hawaii. He wasn't certain, but they think one of them is Buddy, said Strickland, 76.
A DNA kit is in the mail on its way to Strickland's Port Tampa home. As Buddy's eldest surviving brother, he wanted to be the one to give the sample.
“I should be the one doing it,” he said.
If it is Buddy, the Strickland family plans to bring the remains back to Tampa and bury him near his parents with full military honors and a 21-gun salute.
“They are so excited to finally have a little closure,” said Penny Rogo, Buddy's niece.
She said he likely was the only soldier from then-Port Tampa City to die in World War II. The Port Tampa American Legion Post 138 was named after him shortly after his death.
Buddy was an 18-year-old Marine private when he was killed. The son of a commercial fisherman, he was the eldest of 14 children. Six of his siblings — three sisters and three brothers — are still alive.
Bobby, Buddy's youngest brother, was 1 year old when Buddy died and the now 71-year-old doesn't remember him. Roger Strickland, who was 6 years old when his brother died, has flashes of memory of Buddy hitting a golf ball in the front yard.
“I didn't get to see him or play with him or talk to him,” said Strickland, who tears up at the thought of being able to bring his big brother home.
“And I've never, ever, ever, ever seen him cry,” Rogo said.
The Stricklands never gave up hope that Buddy's body would be found, she said, and the family always has honored his memory, though the loss was hard for the family to bear.
Buddy's father, Charles, died of a heart attack shortly after his son's death, Rogo said. The family thinks “he grieved himself to death.” Buddy's mother, Blanch McKinney, was instrumental in naming the American Legion post after him.
She died at age 99 in a nursing home about 10 years ago, Roger Strickland said, still waiting for Buddy to come home.
“She'll be with him,” Strickland said.
Maj. Jamie Dobson, a spokeswoman for the Joint MIA/POW Accounting Command in Hawaii, said the department does not like to confirm the identities of recovered soldiers without a positive DNA match.
But even if the test is negative, Strickland said, the command will always have his gratitude.
“At least they tried,” he said. “You have to give them credit for trying as hard as they have. They never give up hunting.”
Besides at family reunions, he thought he never would hear his brother's name again, Strickland said.
“To have someone call me from the service is just unbelievable,” he said.
For now, the family is clinging to hope that the test will be positive. Relatives from Key West to Jacksonville and New Orleans to North Carolina have been calling all week, excited about the news, Rogo said.
They're all prepared to take off work and come to the funeral, if that day comes, Strickland said. He'll drive to North Carolina and pick up his sisters himself if necessary.
“He needs to come home,” Strickland said about his brother.
“And he needs a miliary burial,” Rogo added.