After nearly three-quarters of a century, Irvin Edmund Rink is returning home.
The 25-year-old Kansan disappeared in the Russell Islands near Guadalcanal on Aug. 4, 1943. He was a Navy pilot flying in a squadron when his F4F-4 Wildcat plane was shot down at sea by Japanese fighter planes.
For six decades, Lt. Rink was missing and presumed dead.
In March 2008, an American diver photographed an F4F-4 aircraft lying upside-down on a reef off the coast of New Georgia in the islands. He found possible human remains and recovered them. They were transferred to a laboratory in Hawaii to be identified through mitochondrial DNA.
Lt. Rink's family was notified in 2013 that there was a possibility his remains might be identified.
And on April 16, Lt. Rink's remains will be buried with full military honors at Maize Park Cemetery, next to his parents, Christine and Edmund Rink. A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. that day at Broadway Mortuary, 1147 S. Broadway.
Lt. Rink was born on July 13, 1918, in Dixon County, Nebraska, in the northeast corner of the state. When he was 10, the family moved to a farm near Maize.
Irvin was the oldest of six children. His siblings included Victor, Harold, Raymond, Lorna and Marvin. He graduated from Maize High School in 1935, then went to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he received his bachelor's degree and was qualified as a petroleum geologist in 1941. While in the Wichita area, he was a member of the Salem Evangelical Church and a member of the Master Mason of Unity Lodge in Clearwater.
As he pursued his college degree, he became involved in the Civilian Pilot Training Course and received his license as a private pilot. He also enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserves. He was first assigned to Fairfax Field in Kansas City, Kansas, and later transferred to the Naval Air Base at Corpus Christi, Texas, where he was commissioned as an ensign on May 1, 1942. A few months later, he was transferred to the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, where he was stationed until November 1942, when he was assigned to overseas carrier duties.
He was commissioned a lieutenant junior grade in March 1943.
On Aug. 4, 1943, eight U.S. Navy planes were flying as part of the Fighting Squadron Twenty-Seven from the Russell Islands to escort a Catalina seaplane on its mission to Enogai Inlet on New Georgia Island in the Solomon Islands. The squadron was attacked by Japanese fighter planes.
After the battle, the planes returned to the air base in the Russell Islands — except for Lt. Rink's plane. He and another pilot, Billy Clifton, were reported missing in action until January 1946, then presumed dead.
Of the nearly 16 million Americans who served in World War II, 79,000 were unaccounted for when the war ended in 1945, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Washington, D.C.
Mark Roche was the scuba diver diving off the coastline of the Solomon Islands in 2008. Roche grew up on a farm in Indiana obsessed with World War II battles, particularly those fought in the Pacific Islands. It was on his bucket list to explore the islands and dive off ships and planes on the surrounding coasts. He spent two weeks exploring the area.
"I found the Solomons to be one of the most remote locations on Earth; at once immeasurably beautiful, but also extraordinarily hostile," Roche wrote in an e-mail to the Rink family.
The locals talked of a plane wreck that was visible in the 60-foot-deep waters about 100 yards offshore.
"I looked down, and there was a Grumman Wildcat laying on its back with one landing gear extended," Roche told The Eagle. "The water has a sky blue cast, which makes for a very tranquil scene. The ocean floor is covered with small chunks of coral and white sand."
As Roche swam around the plane wreckage, he spotted a canteen sitting upright and then saw numerous bones, along with what he thought was a piece of fan coral. That piece of coral turned out to be the sole of Lt. Rink's boot. In all, Roche found Lt. Rink's remains, radio headset earphones, flight goggles and the buckle from his chin strap.
The Rink family received Lt. Rink's Purple Heart medal, given posthumously for his service, dated March 1946.
Lt. Rink's name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at an American Battle Monuments commission site. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has now been accounted for.
Roche said he plans to come to Wichita and attend the memorial service.