WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. – On a cold January morning, Connecticut’s Military Funeral Honors Team assembled on the tarmac of Bradley International Airport. Their mission that day was to conduct planeside honors, welcoming home 1st Lt. Allen R. Turner, a Soldier listed as Missing in Action since 1945.
The Honorable Transfer of his remains was just one part of the MFH Team’s involvement in this repatriation case.
First Lt. Turner, a native of Brookline, Mass., served his country by joining the Army Air Corps during World War II. The 25-year-old, C-109 Liberator pilot was a member of the 1330 Army Air Force Base Unit, Air Transport Command, in the Pacific Theater.
He was responsible for flying cargo missions in the China-Burma-India area of operations.
Turner’s aircraft and crew disappeared on July 17, 1945 while on a resupply mission en route from India to an airbase in central China. This flight took Turner and his crew on a dangerous route over the Himalayas, infamously known as, “The Hump.” Turner was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions and skill in completing numerous missions over this treacherous terrain.
Late in 2007, over 60 years after his aircraft’s disappearance, an independent investigator encountered aircraft wreckage that the investigator believed was of WWII vintage. Located in a remote mountainous area in northern India, the crash site was not far from the Chinese frontier.
Bones were also found at the crash site. These materials were sent to the Joint POW/ MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii for identification. On Sept. 24, 2018 the remains of 1st Lt. Allen Turner were positively identified through DNA testing.
Capt. Patrick Montes, Casualty Assistance Officer for the U.S. Army in Connecticut, and member of the 169th Regiment (Regional Training Institute), served as 1st Lt. Turner’s CAO.
“A repatriation case is the process of returning the remains of a United States service member, lost or missing, back home to their loved ones,” Montes said. “These service members are considered missing in action until their remains are found and identified.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be part of such a mission. I can see, feel and hear the family's grief, skepticism and even anger when they are told that their loved one is finally coming home. It is not until the sight and sounds of the Military Funeral Honors ceremony that they seem to get their long sought closure.”
On January 2, 2019, 1st Lt. Allen Turner returned stateside for this first time in over 70 years. 1st Lt. Turner’s Escort Officer from the 25th Infantry Division, accompanied Turner from Hawaii until transferring the remains to Capt. Montes. Montes, in turn, passed the remains to Turner’s Family Member on the flight line of Bradley International Airport.
Two days later, the Military Honors Team conducted a full honors ceremony for 1st Lt. Turner at the Massachusetts Veterans Cemetery in Agawam, Mass. This ceremony consisted of a rifle salute, the playing of, “Taps,” the ceremonial folding and presenting of the U.S. Flag to Turner’s family.
“I was an escort the morning of the plane-side honors. I ensured that Military Honors were rendered in overseeing the movement of the remains from the Escort Officer to Lt. Turner’s family.”
“Plane-side honors are the transfer of the remains of a fellow Service Member from an aircraft to the transport vehicle, typically a hearse,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Karatkivcz, an Honors Team member from the 248th Engineer Company. “In most cases, this is the first time that family members actually see their loved ones return; it is a very sensitive and emotional moment.”
According to Sgt. Anthony Ricco, Honors Team member assigned to Alpha Company, 192nd Engineer Battalion, serving as a member of the team is an important and privileged role. It is a reminder to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the United States.
“Not everyone has the opportunity or desire to do what we do every day as a member of the Military Funeral Honors team. I believe there is nothing better than to welcome back a fellow Soldier and to be part of their final salute.” Karatkivcz said.
“A family member once asked me, ‘Why does the Army go through all this trouble to find and bury someone who died so long ago?’” Montes said. “The best response I could give was, ‘This is what we do. When we deploy, we promise each other that no matter what, when, or how, we are all coming home.’ I believe in that promise faithfully.”
To learn more about Connecticut’s Military Funeral Honors Program, contact the MFH office at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-568-1741.