MAXWELL, Neb. -- Six World War II airmen whose remains were identified through DNA analysis were buried in a single coffin.
Children and adults lined the street, many holding flags and paying silent tribute, as the funeral procession wound through Maxwell to Fort McPherson National Cemetery on Thursday. The American flag and the POW/MIA flag, which were carried on two motorcycles, snapped in the wind.
The airmen, including Staff Sgt. Harold Tague of Malvern, Iowa, were part of a nine-plane formation that flew out of the Solomon Islands on Jan. 20, 1944, to attack an airfield in Papua, New Guinea. Their B-25C bomber was hit by ground fire and crashed.
Some of the crews' remains were recovered in 1949 and buried in a group grave at Fort McPherson, but no individual identifications were made. In 1983, a team from the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii recovered additional bone fragments and in 1995 the fragments were tested for DNA. Still more fragments were tested in 2000 and military officials contacted relatives of the airmen for samples of their DNA.
The process was fully completed last year, and family members agreed the six men should be reburied together. Some of the families have held funerals in other parts of the country, as well.
The airmen were 1st Lt. Earl Swartzfager of Whittier, Calif.; 2nd Lt. Kenneth Hough of Ottawa, Kan.; 2nd Lt. Robert Williams of Shaker Heights, Ohio; Tech Sgt. Victor L. Koppang of Mauston, Wis.; Staff Sgt. Arthur Merzlock of Joliet, Ill.; and Iowa's Tague.
They were buried with full military honors provided by an honor guard from Fort Riley, Kan.
Chaplain Richard Piontowski of North Platte addressed family members and members of local veterans groups.
"While the hostilities may be over, war doesn't end," Piontowski said. "When the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines all come home, then the war is over."
Johnny Johnson of the Headquarters Army Mortuary Affairs Office in Alexandria, Va., came to North Platte to help with the services.
The Army goes to great lengths to ensure service members come home, even after 61 years, Johnson said.
Arthur Merzlock's nephew, Paul Merzlock, and his 15-year-old daughter, Jennifer, attended the funeral service. Merzlock said his son is named after Arthur, and before his son went into the U.S. Marine Corps, he was given Merzlock's Purple Heart.
A funeral was held for Hough in Ottawa, Kan., in September 2004, but some of his remains are with his crewmates at Fort McPherson.
A lone plane flew over the group to pay tribute. Military escorts led the family members to the gravesite, following members of the honor guard as they carried the casket holding the remains.
Williams' niece, Joan Wahola, came from Aurora, Ohio, for the service. It will provide closure for her and for Williams' family, she said.
"Now we have a part of him," she said.