The remains of a missing World War II airman were returned home to New York this week, 75 years after his plane was brought down by enemy fire in Germany.
John F. McTigue, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces, was honored Sunday by relatives, strangers and veterans at a wake in Wantagh — more than 3,000 miles from where he had been buried — unidentified — for seven decades.
“I was always hopeful he would be identified, and I just wanted to live long enough to see it happen and I got lucky,” his brother, Thomas McTigue, 92, of Wantagh, said.
John McTigue, 22, grew up in Manhattan and loved all things aviation, his brother said. He was co-piloting a B-17G Flying Fortress over Merseburg, Germany, on Aug. 24, 1944, when it was struck by German anti-aircraft fire and crashed, officials said. Of nine crew members, five, including McTigue, were killed and the rest were captured by German forces, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Even without a grave to visit,Thomas McTigue, a World War II Navy veteran, said he had accepted his older brother’s death. Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died and 72,650 service members are still unaccounted for, according to the DPAA.
“At the time you think, it's so many fellows who were lost,” Thomas McTigue said. “It’s part of war.”
Then in 2014, an independent researcher, Jana Churchwell Scott, wrote a letter to the family, saying she could potentially locate where John McTigue’s remains might be buried based on existing records. That letter led the family to meet with the DPAA and to submit DNA samples.
John McTigue’s remains were reported to have been buried in the Leipzig-Lindenthal Cemetery in Germany, according to the DPAA. But his remains were declared unidentifiable after the war and moved to the Lorraine American Cemetery in Saint-Avold, France, according to the DPAA and his obituary.
His family learned John McTigue had been officially identified through DNA analysis on Sept. 5 of this year — 75 years to the day that his mother was notified of his death by telegram, Thomas McTigue said.
“After this, I can put it to rest,” Thomas McTigue, a retired NYPD detective, said of his journey to identify his brother.
John McTigue was welcomed home Friday by a military honor guard at Kennedy Airport.
More than 70 people honored him Sunday at the Charles J. O’Shea Funeral Home in Wantagh. His open coffin was draped with an American flag. An empty Air Forces uniform was laid inside, covering his remains that were wrapped in a green military blanket. About 20 veterans from local VFW posts saluted his coffin and placed a wrapped flag in it.
"The red of our country's flag was made red by his heroism," a veteran said in a service. "The white was held pure by the motives which compelled him. And the blue ... has been glorified by the service he has given for American ideals."
Nephew Frank Karlsson, 65, said the family was grateful to the military and Churchwell Scott for working to identify his lost uncle’s remains after so many years.
“It’s a relief to me that Tom now has closure because he was troubled by this for the last 75 years: what happened to his brother,” Karlsson, of Wantagh, said of his uncle.
John McTigue is survived by his brother. His parents, John and Mary, and sisters, Edna Karlsson and Dorothy Rice, are deceased.
A Mass will be held at St Frances de Chantal Church in Wantagh on Monday. The remains will be interred at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside.