After 62 Years, Missing Queens Airman Is Buried
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A Queens-born airman and two others who had been missing since World War II will finally be laid to rest with military honors this morning at Arlington National Cemetery, 62 years after their plane went down in Northern France during a mission to bomb the Nazis.
Technical Sergeant Henry Kortebein, who was from the Maspeth section of Queens, will be buried along with Second Lieutenant David Nelson of Chicago and Technical Sergeant Blake Treece Jr. of Marshall, Ark., officials said.
“This is a family funeral,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, Shari Lawrence, said. Last night, the families spent time together with the caskets that hold the remains of the three men. The funeral procession will begin at 11 a.m. today.
“There are sisters, widows, cousins. Many of them have been in touch for some time. They heard about each other in the letters the soldiers sent home,” Ms. Lawrence said.”It’s going to be very difficult for some of them. One of the family members here was only two months shy of her 11th birthday when her father died. This is a closing for her that she didn’t even know she needed.”
The men who will be buried today were part of a nine-man crew that set out from a base in England in a B-17G Flying Fortress to bomb enemy targets near the city of Caen, France, on August 8, 1944. At that point in the war, more than two months after D-Day, the allied forces were beginning to cross Northern France toward Belgium. The bomber was last seen exploding and then crashing near the village of Lonlay l’Abbaye after it was hit by a stream of anti-aircraft fire, Department of Defense officials said.
Villagers and German military recovered the remains of some of the men and buried them nearby. Together with additional recovery efforts by American forces in the ensuing weeks, six of the nine crewmembers were found, including the pilot, First Lieutenant Jack Thompson. The three others, who will be buried today, weren’t found until August 2002, when a French aircraft wreckage-hunting group, the Association Normande du Souvenir Aerien 39/45, located the crash site. The group informed the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which dispatched a team to survey the site. It was excavated in July 2004. The searchers found human remains, personal items, and crew-related materials in the site, as well as six unexploded 250-pound bombs, defense department officials said.
Defense department technicians positively identified the three men by matching DNA with maternal relatives.
“It’s been amazing that these World War II soldiers are being found,” Judith Young, the national service officer for the Gold Star Mothers, a group whose members have lost a child in military action, said. “Nothing could be worse than having them MIA. That truly has to be the hardest thing — the everlasting never knowing what happened.”
Ms. Young’s son, Jeffrey Young, 22, a sergeant with the 2nd marine division, was killed in the 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut.