SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- Nestled among her grandmother’s baubles and beads, Brandie Hannon holds a happier time -- frozen in black and white.
It’s also a painful reminder that her grandmother was forever robbed of the chance to say goodbye to her big brother.
“The idea that I can help put some closure on her brother, which was something that she thought about forever, even if she didn’t say it,” Hannon said. “If I can help put some closure on that, even though she is gone, do it.”
Growing up, Lillian Patricia – or Pat – was never far from Louie Faria.
“When the subject of World War II came up, she clammed up. And maybe, you know, I think just the trauma of losing him so young. He was just gone and he never came back,” Hannon told FOX40.
It’s an open wound for a family that time hasn’t healed.
“My son’s 24 now, and I worry about him every minute of every day, so I can’t imagine, you know, waiting,” Hannon said. “To never have the box, you know, to never have the headstone.”
Tucked away in a box, Hannon found an old letter from a family friend. Inside those pages, she learned the sacrifice her great uncle made.
Louie, a graduate of C.K. McClatchy High School, joined the Marines 1942. He was a machine gunner.
A year after enlisting, Louie was burned in a kitchen accident.
“He was supposed to be in the infirmary,” Hannon said.
But, two days after – he chose to fight in the Battle of Tarawa.
“And he just did it anyways,” Hannon said.
It was a fateful decision. The Battle of Tarawa lasted three days.
The goal was to seize the small pacific island from the Japanese. The mission was accomplished, but it came at a cost.
About 1,100 U.S. Marines and sailors died.
Nearly 76 years later, more than 400 of men are still unaccounted for -- including Louie.
“Louie was one of many. I think that’s what gets me,” Hannon said. “His story is not really that unique. And that, just as a mom, that just tears me up.”
Hannon always knew Louie was lost to the war, and for her, that’s where his story ended.
“I’ve always known who he was. But I didn’t have any details,” she said.
FOX40 found Faria after researching every name on a military database of the Californians still missing from WWII.
We traced Faria’s roots to Sacramento, searched his name on Ancestry.com, discovered his family tree and eventually connected with Hannon.
“It was just curiosity,” she said. “I just kind of started nosing around.”
Nearly 1,700 miles away in Texas – curiosity turned into hope of bringing Louie home.
Retired police chief Rick Stone runs the Chief Rick Stone & Family Charitable Foundation. Those missing in action are his calling.
He and his team have successfully identified the remains of 165 heroes.
“We’ve done cases from World War I and the Korean War, as well,” he said.
When Stone worked for the Department of Defense, he was assigned to find and identify the remains of missing military members.
"I would have the photographs, the military photographs of these kids up in my little office,” Stone said.
He worked with a team in a laboratory in Hawaii where they compared bones with census data, military and medical records and family genealogy information.
“I was hoping that people like Louie would give me a clue,” he said. “Where are you, Louie?"
In that lab, hundreds of boxes filled with remains and clues sit on rows of shelves. Each unknown received an x- number, a unique identifier.
Stone believes Louie might be X-85B.
“So, Louie’s case is not a slam dunk, but still he’s a possible match. He is the most likely match to one unknown and a possible match to three others,” Stone said.
Ultimately, DNA will solve the mystery. Hannon submitted a sample to the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency.
“I would like to think that there's gonna be a real easy answer,” she said.
But Hannon says the agency told her the answer could take years. The agency did not respond to FOX40’s request for comment.
“It’s kind of horrific to me that Louie and all these other people are just a number somewhere,” Hannon said. “How is that OK?”
That kind of waiting is something Stone knows all too well.
"Louie could be identified tomorrow, which I hope he is. Or it might be 11 years, or it might be longer since that's an average. But it's very frustrating for the families,” he said. “We should never forget Louie Faria.”
Brandi’s grandmother never forgot. She died not knowing where he was, without a chance to honor her brother and his sacrifice.
It’s the cross that Hannon will now carry.
“Just being able to say, ‘This is it. This is him,’” she said.
Cassandra Webb filed this report.
Video from the Battle of Tarawa courtesy of the U.S. National Archives.