74 Years After WWII Soldier’s Death, Family Receives Closure

VICTORIA, Minn. (WCCO) — A Twin Cities family is finding closure this Memorial Day weekend, 74 years in the making.

A bomber plane shot down during WWII was discovered off the coast of Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean. On board when it went down were 11 crew members, one of whom was a Minnesotan.

Holding up an old photo believed to be taken in 1940, Jim Emmer proudly looked upon his uncle John as a spry, 20-year-old man.

“My hair was parted the same way on the left side, combed right,” Jim said, comparing his younger self to his uncle. “I mean he looks a lot like me.”

Jim never got to know his uncle, and says he didn’t even learn his uncle existed until he was in the fifth grade.

“He was called to serve, he served, and that’s one of the consequences of serving,” Jim said.

Sgt. John Emmer was a photographer on a B-24 bomber crew, flying missions in the Pacific theater of WWII.

Enemy fire hit the plane near Papua New Guinea in March 1944, sending the bomber and its 11-man crew into the ocean, never to be seen again.

(credit: CBS)

Born three years later, Jim says his family rarely spoke of his uncle’s death.

“We didn’t mention John every Memorial Day,” he said. “The grief amongst my grandparents and my dad and his brothers, they didn’t talk about it.”

But this Memorial Day weekend is different.

“I’m not doing any grieving, I’m celebrating,” he said with a smile.

Last fall, Project Recover, a group that searches the seas for military members missing in action since WWII, set out to find Sgt. Emmer’s plane named Heaven Can Wait. After 17 days of combing the ocean floor, the wreckage was found 213 feet below. A video of Project Recover’s effort shows the search team sharing high fives when they finally located parts of the plane.

“They were excited as I was to watch that video. I get the goosebumps when I watch it,” said Jim. “It’s a very spiritual thing.”

After the discovery, the search team honored the bomber crew below by folding an American Flag for each member while also reading aloud their names. Eleven men who gave the ultimate sacrifice across the world, who now have a chance to return home.

“Seventy-four years later, but it happened,” said Jim. “I hope he’s coming home, I really do hope he’s coming home.”

It’s now up to the government to decide if the remains of the 11 crew members will be recovered. Project Recover tell WCCO there are still 72,000 service members unaccounted for since WWII.

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