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Honor Delayed: WWII Vet To Be Laid To Rest

Staff Sgt. John Hogan was killed during World War II. Though he died almost 70 years ago, Hogan is only now going to be buried at Arlington Cemetery. (Courtesy of Ed Hogan)

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. John Hogan was killed in action. But not recently, and not in Afghanistan. He was a young gunner on a bombing mission during World War II when his B-17 was shot down over Germany.

Now, 70 years later, Hogan will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Back in 1944, the small, tight-knit town of West Plains, Mo., was knocked to its knees when one of its brightest and most promising young men went missing overseas.

Hogan was a dashing 20-year-old, gifted and popular, the ambitious son of a doctor in West Plains. Jack McNevin worked with Hogan's mother in the local post office.

"She never did really recover ... completely from not knowing where [her] boy [was]," he says.

McNevin went to high school with Hogan. Their senior year, McNevin was a halfback on the football team and Hogan was a left guard.

"I'm not even sure that we ever scored a touchdown; I don't even remember," he says. "But we were bad. We were really bad."

Hogan and McNevin graduated five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hogan dreamed of becoming a field biologist. Instead, he found himself fighting off frostbite with his hands on a machine gun, flying nearly 27,000 feet above Europe.

Hogan's B-17 fell out of formation after coming under anti-aircraft fire over Germany.

"I assumed all these years that his plane just crashed into the mountains, or somewhere, and they couldn't even find it," McNevin says.

After the war, the Army wrote Hogan's parents.

"It is regretted that there is no grave at which to pay homage," the note said. "May the knowledge of your son's honorable service to his country be a source of sustaining comfort to you."

Hogan's parents and two brothers passed away without ever knowing what happened to his body.

But in 1991, a German gravedigger found a metal identification tag from a U.S. soldier. It took 17 years for the U.S. government to get permission from Germany to excavate that site. Investigators turned up the remains of the B-17's crewmembers.

Ed Hogan, a neurologist in St. Louis, never got to meet his uncle, John.

"I'm very appreciative that things have come up, and that we know, and that they've brought his remains back," he says. "I just really wish it would have happened when my dad was still alive."

Hogan is scheduled to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in August with full military honors.

Copyright 2014 KSMU-FM. To see more, visit http://ksmu.org.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Staff Sergeant John Hogan will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery later this summer. He was killed in action, but not recently. Not in Afghanistan. He died in 1944, a young gunner in a B-17 flying over Germany on a bombing mission. From member station KSMU in the Ozarks, Jennifer Davidson reports.

JENNIFER DAVIDSON, BYLINE: The small, tight-knit town of West Plains, Missouri, was knocked to its knees when one of its brightest and promising young men went missing overseas in 1944. John Hogan was a dashing 20-year-old, gifted and popular, the ambitious son of one of the town's doctors. Jack McNevin worked with Hogan's mother in the local post office.

JACK MCNEVIN: She never did recover, wholly, completely, from not knowing where my boy is.

DAVIDSON: McNevin also went to high school with John Hogan. Their senior year, McNevin was a halfback on the football team, Hogan a left guard.

MCNEVIN: I'm not even sure we even scored a touchdown, I don't even remember. But we were bad. We were real bad.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIDSON: Hogan and McNevin graduated five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. John Hogan dreamed of becoming a field biologist. Instead, he found himself fighting off frostbite with his hands on a machine gun, flying 27,000 feet above Europe. Hogan's B-17 fell out of formation after coming under anti-aircraft fire over Germany.

MCNEVIN: I assumed all these years that his plane just crashed into the mountains, or somewhere, and they couldn't even find it.

DAVIDSON: After the war, the Army wrote Hogan's parents, saying it is regretted that there is no grave at which to pay homage. May the knowledge of your son's honorable service to his country be a source of sustaining comfort to you.

Hogan's parents and two brothers passed away without ever knowing what happened to his body. Jessica Pierno works in the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office.

JESSICA PIERNO: In 1991, a German citizen was digging a grave in a cemetery for one of his own family members. And as he was doing his work, he discovered a metal identification tag that was from a U.S. soldier.

DAVIDSON: It was 17 years before the U.S. government was given permission from Germany to excavate that site. Investigators recovered remains of the B-17's crewmembers. Ed Hogan, a neurologist in St. Louis, never got to meet his uncle John.

ED HOGAN: I'm very appreciative that things have come up, and that we know, and that they've brought his remains back. I just really wish it would have happened when my dad was still alive.

DAVIDSON: John Hogan is scheduled to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in August with full military honors. For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Davidson in West Plains, Missouri.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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