Facebook Twitter

WWII airmen being buried with honors

SHARE WWII airmen being buried with honors

PITTSBURGH — Anthony DeLucia loved to swim almost as much as he loved to fly. For years, his family held out hope that the Army Air Corps flight engineer had paddled his way to a Pacific island after a bomber crash during World War II.

The last time his family saw him was in 1942 during a visit to his hometown of Bradford, 220 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The Air Corps volunteer gave his brother, Elmer DeLucia, a watch.

"He said, 'Elmer, I'm going someplace real far away and I don't know when I'll ever see you again,' " Elmer DeLucia, now 77, said Thursday. "That was the last time I saw him. That was it."

On Aug. 31, 1944, DeLucia's 24th birthday, he and nine other airmen were reported missing when their B-24 did not return from a raid on Japanese ships in the former Formosa, now Taiwan.

His family figured the bomber had gone into the sea. Japanese records offered no clues, and the Army could not find evidence of a crash. Over the years, Elmer DeLucia lost hope that he would find out what happened to his brother.

But in 1996, Chinese farmers found wreckage of the plane while searching for herbs on 7,000-foot Kitten Mountain in Guangxi Province.

The discovery helped the military fulfill a promise it made to families of missing veterans in 1946: to bring home everyone who could be found, no matter what it took.

"Even though this gentleman is from a long time ago, he's still one of our brothers," said Army Capt. Paul Gonthier, who is counseling DeLucia's brothers, both of whom earned Purple Hearts in World War II.

Elmer DeLucia will lay his brother's remains to rest Saturday in the family plot in Bradford, a town of 11,000 known for producing oil and Zippo lighters. Six of the other nine airmen will be buried Aug. 21 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.

Families of the other men are burying them privately. Last month, the remains of Pvt. Vincent J. Netherwood were buried in his hometown of Kingston, N.Y. Netherwood, the plane's tail gunner, was 20 in 1944 and engaged to be married.

U.S. and Chinese searchers spent three years investigating the crash site to help scientists at the Defense Department's forensic laboratory in Hawaii identify the dead.

They used dental records, dog tags, rings and DNA to identify what they could. The rest will be placed in a seventh casket that will be buried in Arlington at the same time as the other six.

Elmer DeLucia flew to Hawaii last week to escort his brother's casket home. Their mother, Jennie DeLucia, asked Elmer before her death in 1968 to bury Anthony, if he was ever found, alongside his parents near the church where he was baptized.

At the funeral, Elmer and another DeLucia brother, Auggie, will receive the Purple Heart their brother earned in the crash.

The 10 airmen will be honored with their names listed on a plaque at Arlington above the grave for the remains that could not be identified.

The remaining airmen were identified as 1st Lt. George H. Pierpont of Salem, Va.; 2nd Lt. Franklin A. Tomenendale of Shabbona, Ill., 2nd Lt. Robert L. Deming of Seattle; 2nd Lt. George A. Ward of Jersey City, N.J., Sgt. Ellsworth V. Kelley of Newark, Ohio; Pfc. Charles Buckley of Garden City, Kan.; Staff Sgt. William A. Drager of Washington, N.J.; and Sgt. Robert L. Kearsey of McKees Rocks, Pa.

WEB SITE: www.perscom.army.mil