The remarkable story of a family’s attempt to recover the remains of a missing uncle and World War II veteran takes us from Tucson to northern California, and then to New Orleans.

Now after 50 years, the LeBlanc family has never been closer to bringing their loved one’s remains home.

“He was always kind of a favorite uncle in a way.”

Skip Bailey is an artist living in Tucson, but spending much of his time searching for the remains of that favorite uncle, Ferris LeBlanc.

Bailey says, like many of the Greatest Generation who fought in World War II, his uncle Ferris never talked about his time fighting in Europe.

He’s since learned more about LeBlanc’s wartime service.

“He came in at Normandy after D-Day. They set up and then went in. He was in the Battle of the Bulge; he had all that sort of thing,” Bailey tells me. “They set up the munitions for artillery, riffles, everything. He was very involved.”

After the war, he returned to the Bay Area to be near his very large family

LeBlanc was one of 13 siblings. As a youngster, after their father died, he helped raise his younger siblings including Marilyn, Skip Bailey’s mother.

“For my mom that was the most important brother in the family, pretty much. So, she was very close to Ferris.”

Bailey says his family was always accepting of Ferris LeBlanc being gay. He also tells me LeBlanc was the one who encouraged him to become an artist.

“He and his then-partner said, ‘we want to pay for your college education to help you with your art and to pursue you living as an artist’.”

Bailey says it was actually a falling out with the family over money that led to LeBlanc suddenly leaving one day, never to be heard from again.

“He was just gone, and my mom kept thinking one of these days he’s going to just knock on the door, he’ll comeback and the family will bring him right back and love him just the same. It never happened,” says Bailey.

Forty-two years went by with no word from Ferris.

Finally in 2015, a family member told Bailey to search the Internet.

“The computer just lit up with page after page of this horrible tragedy, and how he had died, his body was buried in a potter’s field and he had never been recovered. I came in here and mom was here in the dining room. I had tears running down my face. I said, ‘mom we found himand it’s horrible’.”

The horrible tragedy was the Upstairs Lounge fire that killed 32 people on June 24th of 1973.

It was a gay nightclub in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the fire was intentionally set.

Until the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in 2016, this fire was the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community in the U.S.

Four of the bodies were never claimed, including Ferris LeBlanc.

After learning about the fate of his uncle, Bailey promised to find LeBlanc’s remains and return them to the Bay Area for a military burial. Along with his mother and his wife, Bailey has made several emotional trips to New Orleans.

“That was really traumatic for all of us to actually be at the site and see where it all happened,” remembers Bailey. “That was just awful to think about what they went through.”

An ABC News documentary has chronicled much of their search for LeBlanc’s remains.

It has been a frustrating search for Bailey. He knows the remains were buried on the backside of Resthaven Cemetery in East New Orleans, but he’s run into several roadblocks.

“She says we don’t have a map; we don’t know where that spot is.”

Not deterred, Bailey found a short film clip of the burial of the unclaimed bodies from the nightclub fire.

“Showing the four coffins being put down with a priest giving last rights,” Bailey recounts. “So, we’ve been able to work with some people and they’ve triangulated things using satellite imagery and stuff. We think we’re within five or ten feet where the grave probably is.”

Bailey has now been able to clear several hurdles with the city of New Orleans that had been blocking him from searching for the remains.

The next step is getting help from the state of Louisiana. According to Bailey, they have the ground-penetrating radar needed to locate the remains before they can be exhumed.

He’s now working with state officials to make that happen.

“So that’s where we’re at. We’re a lot closer than we’ve ever been and we’ve got support of a lot people in New Orleans.”

Once the remains are identified through DNA, Bailey is planning a full military burial for his uncle in California.

“He deserves that as a veteran and he deserves that as a human being.”

Bailey’s mother Marilyn is now 93. He holds out hope she’ll able to see her brother’s remains returned home to northern California.