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Best friends and WWII soldiers laid to rest together

James “Jim” Louvier and William “Bill” Gray Jr. grew up best friends in South Seattle. When World War II began, both young men enlisted as pilots. They wanted to serve, and they wanted to do it together. (Family photos)

KENT, Wash. -- A single promise between two best friends and army soldiers during World War II built something beautiful: a family.

James “Jim” Louvier and William “Bill” Gray Jr. grew up best friends in South Seattle. When World War II began, both young men enlisted as pilots. They wanted to serve, and they wanted to do it together.

Before they deployed overseas, the two friends made a pact. They agreed that if either of them died, the other man would have to care for his family.

In 1945, Jim made it home. Bill never did.

That year, Bill was shot down over Lindau, Germany. By the time U.S. forces determined where the crash site was, the area was under Russian occupation, and Bill’s body couldn’t be retrieved.

When he returned home, Jim met with Bill’s family.

“He went to them, to grieve with them,” Jim’s daughter, Jan Bradshaw said.

“I think he just wanted to assure the family he would do everything to take care of them, as their pact was made,” Jan’s brother, Bill added.

But in a twist of fate, love struck. Jim fell in love with Bill’s younger sister, Jeanne, and in November 1945 the two were married. Together they had five children.

Jim spent the next 65 years fulfilling his promise to his best friend.

“He was committed to his family,” Jan Bradshaw said. “Families have challenges and difficulties, but he was committed and loving.

They even named one of their sons after him.

“It was a lifelong commitment,” Bill Louviere said about his father’s mission to take care of his family.

Jim died in 2010. He was cremated, but his family could never decide on a permanent resting place. Until now.

Last year, the U.S. Army finally recovered Bill’s remains in an excavation effort in Germany. Earlier this week, he made his final flight home to Seattle where his family was waiting.

Friday, the two best friends were reunited at Tahoma National Cemetery, with a single family surrounding them.

A ceremony was held, giving both men full military honors. Then Jim Louvier and Bill Gray were laid to rest side by side.

“They grew up together, they enlisted together, now they’re going to be together forever,” Bill Louvier said through tears.

Together. Just like family should be.

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