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Old 10-31-2009, 05:57 AM
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Default World War II airman honored, buried after being missing for 65 years

World War II airman honored, buried after being missing for 65 years

Quote:
Michel Nolan, Staff Writer
10/30/2009

A fallen World War II airman was laid to rest Friday, 65 years after his B-24 bomber was shot down over the West Pacific.

Full military honors were accorded Sgt. Robert Stinson at Riverside National Cemetery, where an honor guard escorted his flag-draped casket.

The flag was presented to the airman's brother, Dick Stinson, 87, in an emotional moment.

"It's an amazing day - one I never thought I'd see," said Dick Stinson, one of Robert's two surviving brothers, along with Edward Stinson, 74.

The tribute to the former San Bernardino resident also included a 21-gun salute, a B-52 flyover and the release of 21 white doves symbolizing "The Final Flight."

An engineer on board the B-24 Liberator bomber, "Babes in Arms," Stinson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, an Air Medal and Oak-Leaf Cluster as well as other military honors.

Stinson, who was 23 at the time of his death in 1944, was celebrated by his brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, friends and fellow veterans.

"For the last 45 years, my pop never talked about it and neither did my uncle Dick," said Dave Stinson, Edward's son and coordinator of all the family's tribute efforts.

"But in the last three weeks, it was like a dam broke and all the emotions and words came pouring out," Dave Stinson said.

Today was about closure after so many years of not knowing, said Arleene Terry, Edward Stinson's sister-in-law.

"This will be closure for the family," she said. "Today's a miracle and the divers who made this possible are here today to make it complete."

For 60 years, Sgt. Stinson and seven fellow crew members had lain in the wreckage of their bomber in 70 feet of water off the Western Pacific island of Palau.

In 2004, volunteer divers with the BentProp organization found the wreckage, broken into three sections on a coral reef.

Dr. Patrick J. Scannon was part of a four-man diving team who found the wreckage in 2004.

"We identified the aircraft and remains in the plane over a period of three years," said Scannon, who was among the mourners.

"Being here is part of the complete cycle. We're very pleased and honored to be here with the family."

Army Chaplain Steve Harrell, who gave the eulogy, said "A warrior has come home. Thank you for the opportunity to bring this hero home."

Final military honors included a 21-gun salute followed by Taps and the presentation of the flag.

Specially trained white Rock doves were released into the air after the ceremony, symbolizing "The Final Flight."

The doves fly back to their home at The White Wing Sky Ranch in Highland after each ceremony.

Casualty Assistance Officer, Sgt. 1st Class Stuart Elliott said the honors for Sgt. Stinson were so deserved.

"From my point of view, our nation needs to understand that the World War II veterans are heroes. The Army, the state and the nation needs to bend over backwards when we bring somebody home who's been gone 65 years. Even the ones who are here, need to be honored. It was a defining time for our country," Elliott said.

Mayor Pat Morris, who also paid tribute to the airman at a Thursday memorial service, said, "When you return a veteran to his home after 65 years of being lost at sea, it's a remarkable tribute to the tenacity of those who continue to search for MIAs and return them to their families," said Morris, adding that "Families are not made whole again until that person is laid to rest. There is an agony in the soul that is not healed until an event like this takes place."

San Bernardino Police and the California Highway Patrol closed down the 215 south and 60 east freeways between Bobbitt Memorial Chapel in San Bernardino and Riverside National Cemetery so the funeral procession could pass unobstructed.

Police cars and motorcycles, San Bernardino City Fire trucks, and nearly 50 Patriot Guard Riders escorted the hearse and the family.

When thanked for their service - some of it volunteer - an anonymous police officer said, "It's the least we could do."
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