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John Cozza, MIA from WWII, is laid to rest

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John Cozza's siblings have spent nearly six decades thinking their brother's fighter plane was probably shot down over an island in the Philippines during World War II.

Now, after 58 years of waiting and wondering, their suspicions have been confirmed. In early May, the Navy positively matched the DNA from his leg bone, found by a logger on Luzon Island in the Philippines, to cheek cells from his 88-year-old sister, Rena Hobbs.

On Saturday, the remaining family — five siblings in their 80s and 90s — and their offspring, will hold a full military funeral for "Uncle Johnny," who would have turned 80 that day.

"He was a wonderful brother," Hobbs said from her Bountiful home. She was 31 in 1945 when her brother was listed as missing in action. "He was the baby and we babied him. He had my mother wrapped around his little finger."

Their mother had a very difficult time losing her youngest son, especially when she didn't know what happened to him, Hobbs said. "It was horrible. My mother never had a gray hair on her head, and when she got the information, her hair turned gray around her temples."

Cozza was born to a Catholic family on June 6, 1923, in Hiawatha, Carbon County. He was the youngest of seven, and enlisted in the Navy after graduating high school in September 1942. He became a pilot in May 1944, and disappeared during a June 1945 mission.

The Navy told Hobbs and other family members that a Filipino logger found his one-person Hellcat on a mountain, along with dog tags, his arm and leg bone, a silk map and his boots. She did not know when the logger chanced upon the wreckage, but she was told the man allegedly asked the U.S. government for payment in exchange for the plane.

When the government refused, the logger kept the remains, until in 1989 a friend persuaded him to turn them over to the military, Hobbs said.

Cozza's family was contacted at that time, but DNA samples weren't taken until last fall.

Hobbs said no one thought twice about holding a military funeral when they found out his remains were being sent home.

The family also didn't begrudge the military the long delay.

"Don't you know how the government works? They really go through a process trying to locate these people, and they can't do it in five minutes," she said. "It takes them a little while."

Jerry Richardson, funeral director of Larkin Sunset Gardens, said the casket will arrive with the remaining bones and full dress uniform sealed inside.

The service will be Saturday, at 11 a.m. at Larkin Sunset Gardens Mortuary & Cemetery in Sandy.