Service # 15089215
408th Bomber Squadron, 22nd Bomber Group, Heavy
In 2001, a man hiking in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea saw something sparkling on the ground and picked it up. Examining the object, he saw it is a ring that clearly belonged to an American.
The villager had no idea that what he found would lead to the discovery of the remains of a United States Army bomber that had crashed in the area 57 years ago, killing the 11 World War II soldiers who were on board.
One of those soldiers was Staff Sgt. William Lowery of Republic, whom the Army declared MIA along with his 10 comrades in 1944.
Two years later, the Army presumed that the soldiers were dead and assumed that their plane, which they could not find, had crashed during a storm somewhere in the Pacific.
This left Lowery's family with many unanswered questions, and his relatives who are finally getting closure say they are sorry that Lowery's parents, brothers and sisters never did.
The ring that the hiker found was brought to the attention of the U.S. Embassy, which led to a 2002 search in the ravine where the bomber had crashed in Papua New Guinea, after a strike mission on Japanese targets near Hollandia.
A U.S. team of excavators and forensic archeologists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, whose goal is to find and identify American remains from all wars, swept into the ravine and immediately started finding objects owned by the soldiers, such as rings and watches, all still intact. The discovery that solved the mystery of what had happened to the bomber was the tail of the plane with the serial number on it.
Dog tags and skeletal remains were also found, and the military was finally able to identify the soldiers who had been missing for so many years.
Lowery's niece, Theresa Zagore, who lives near Chicago, was the first to get a call, and she cried when she found out that there was possible information about the uncle she had heard so much about growing up.
Zagore's sister, Marie Alexander, also from the Chicago area, said she also cried when she heard the news. The sisters said they cried for their mother, who would have loved to be a part of what was taking place. They cried for their aunts and uncles who had already passed on and never got the closure they had longed for. But there was also joy in their tears because their uncle was finally coming home.
William Lowery never married or had children, but his nieces and nephews heard about the great man he was from their parents all of their lives.
Alexander said that to them, "Uncle Willie" was always alive, because their mother had never believed that he was dead.
"When we first heard that there was information about him, I hoped that he was still alive," said Alexander. "We always believed that there was a chance he was alive. So it was disappointing in a way, but it was also good to finally know what happened."
When Alexander was sure that the remains of her uncle had indeed been found, she shared the news with her cousins living in this area.
Norma Golembiewski of Brownsville said it was a "very emotional" time when she heard the news.
Since William Lowery had died before Zagore and Alexander were born, they knew him only through photographs and stories their mother told them about him.
They recalled being told that he was intelligent and loved to joke around.
But Golembiewski said that she experienced some of Lowery's best qualities firsthand when she was a child.
"He was very personable and kind-hearted," said Golembiewski. "He was a caring person and always took time to be with us."
Golembiewski said she was "elated" to have closure on her uncle's death after more than 60 years.
"It was a miracle that they finally found the plane," said Golembiewski. "It was sad, but, at the same time, I felt good for my dad and I wished he was still living. We assumed the plane had gone down in the storm, but it was always a mystery where it went down."
Since Lowery's dog tags were recovered from the wreckage, Golembiewski said she was also glad that the family could have something that belonged to her uncle.
Jerome Lowery, nephew to William Lowery, said he was also happy to finally know what had become of his uncle.
"Ever since I was young I wondered what happened," said Jerome Lowery of Uniontown, adding that he had shared stories of his uncle with his children and grandchildren. "The whole family always talked about it and wondered what happened to him."
Jerome Lowery said that when he found out that his uncle's remains had been identified after all these years, "You could have knocked me over with a feather."
"It's amazing what the U.S. military went through to identify the bones and what they are going to do to memorialize him," said Jerome Lowery, referring to William Lowery's upcoming burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.
"I just can't say enough," said Jerome Lowery, adding that the majority of his family would be attending the memorial service. "We want to be there to thank him for what he did, giving his life for his country."
Jerome Lowery said that although he was very small when his uncle left to fight in World War II, he can remember a young man in a military uniform holding him when he was a child, and he would visit as often as he could.
"When he left for active duty nobody in the family ever saw him again," said Jerome Lowery. "It's great that now he will be buried with dignity and honor, as he should be."
Alexander commented that her mother had told them growing up that their uncle had been scheduled to return home, but instead he had courageously volunteered to go on the mission that ended his life.
Golembiewski said that while she may not be able to attend the ceremony because of an illness in her family, her uncle is in her "thoughts and prayers."
"I know he is gone, but it seems as though part of him is still here now," said Golembiewski.
Alexander agreed with that sentiment, commenting on how to her and her sister, their uncle has always been alive, if only in sprit.
"To us, he still is," said Alexander.