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General Topics => Military and Law Enforcement => Topic started by: Thernlund on October 23, 2008, 05:15:25 pm

Title: WWII pilot comes home
Post by: Thernlund on October 23, 2008, 05:15:25 pm
Wow.


-T.

http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/10/23/20081023WWIIBurial.html (http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/10/23/20081023WWIIBurial.html)

After long search, WWII pilot's body found, laid to rest
by John Faherty - Oct. 23, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic


On Aug. 25, 1944, Lt. Ray Packard, a 20-year-old fighter pilot, took off in his P-38 Lightning from a small airfield in France.

He died that day when his plane was shot out of the sky in a dogfight with the Germans.

He was buried quickly by residents of the small French town where he crashed.
More than six decades later, Packard finally came home.

On Wednesday, he was given a hero's funeral at the Prescott National Cemetery.

A chaplain spoke, and there was a nine-gun salute. A bugler played taps as old soldiers gave their final salute.

Then, Packard was laid to rest in the country he died fighting for.

The young airman was born and raised in California, but he was buried in Prescott because, after all these years, his closest living relative is a nephew, Ron Packard, of Lake Havasu City.

"He was my favorite uncle," said Ron, 72. "I spent three tours in Vietnam. So I know, I know. He's home. That's what matters."

History will remember Aug. 25, 1944, for the liberation of Paris.

But in other parts of France, the fighting was still fierce.

Packard was flying as part of a squadron of 22 P-38s en route to attack enemy airfields when the fighter group was intercepted by 80 German planes, according to the Department of Defense.

The ensuing dogfight was chaotic and deadly.

Eleven P-38s were shot down.

Five of the pilots parachuted out and escaped capture.

Two others were captured by the Germans and taken as POWs.

Three men crashed and died and were later accounted for.

Neither Packard nor his plane was found by the military. But, even at the time, there were no delusions about his fate.

Other pilots saw his plane crash violently, and more importantly, there were no reports of a parachute opening.

"My folks got a call in the middle of the night from his parents," Ron Packard said. "The Army had called them and said he was missing in action and that it didn't look good."

In 1951, the Army returned to France to investigate the incident and to try to find Lt. Packard.

The Department of Defense said soldiers interviewed people in the French town, including one man who said he remembered the pilot being buried.

But soldiers could not find the body or the crash site.

More than 74,000 soldiers are still missing from WWII, and officials didn't return to Packard's case until 2006.

That year, the military's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command returned to Angy, the small rural village about 50 miles north of Paris where the plane was thought to have crashed.

The mission statement of the organization is to "achieve the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing as a result of the nation's past conflicts."

The team from JPAC spoke to the son of the man the Army had spoken to in 1951.

That interview led, in 2006 and 2007, to the excavation of the crash site and the discovery of some of Packard's remains and his dog tags.

In 2008, using dental records, Lt. Ray Packard was identified.

Local veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars attended Wednesday's service for Packard in Prescott, as did a handful of men who fought in World War II.

They came to honor a fallen comrade.

Lewis Burns, 84, was part of the invasion of Normandy. He was particularly glad to get a fellow soldier home.

"He's ours. He belongs to the American people," Burns said. "He was raised on American soil. He gave his life on foreign soil, but he did it for his country. Our country."

Ron Packard makes the four-hour drive to Prescott periodically to visit the Veterans Hospital there. He says he will now be able to visit his beloved uncle.

Ron nodded his head and wiped away a tear during the service, when the chaplain said the ceremony will provide some peace.

"We can finally lay him to rest," said Chaplain John Lockhart of the Army National Guard. "In our hearts, in our minds, and now, in our home soil."