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Remains of World War II airman identified 79 years after he was killed in action

The Pentagon agencies responsible for identifying and bringing home America's war dead have long been criticized by frustrated families
The problems of bringing home America's war dead 02:56

The remains of a U.S. Air Force officer have been identified nearly eight decades after his plane was shot down during World War II. John Holoka, Jr., a 25-year-old technical sergeant from Cresson, Pennsylvania, was killed in action in June 1944, authorities announced recently. 

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense that focuses on recovering American military personnel, confirmed in a news release that remains found in the United Kingdom in 2021 belonged to Holoka, whose body was previously deemed non-recoverable after a number of unsuccessful investigations.

Officials say Holoka was one of 10 airmen on board a B-24H Liberator bomber that was struck and badly damaged by anti-aircraft following a raid on a German airfield in Saint-Cyr-l'École, France, near Versailles, on June 22, 1944. Holoka was assigned to the crew as an engineer, according to the DPAA. 

The remains of U.S. Army Air Forces Tech. Sgt. John Holoka, Jr., have been identified nearly 80 years after his death during World War II. DPAA

The pilot, whose remains were identified recently as Lt. William B. Montgomery, was able to fly the damaged aircraft for miles until it reached the coast of England. 

Montgomery then ordered the crew to bail out, allowing seven airmen to parachute to safety before the plane ultimately crashed with Montgomery, Holoka and one other member of the crew still inside. Two crew members who landed safely on the ground reported seeing the aircraft crash into a farm in West Sussex, according to DPAA.

Scientists were able to confirm Holoka's identity using DNA tests and anthropological analyses, officials said. 

The late soldier's niece, 78-year-old Susanne Ciarello of Long Island, New York, spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the discovery over the weekend.

"It brings tears to my eyes," Ciarello told the newspaper. "To me, it is so amazing, so unbelievable, they identified my uncle and found his dog tags."

Ciarello told the Post-Gazette that Holoka was meant to be her godfather. 

"Little was said about him because my mother got emotional. I only wish she was alive to see this," she said. 

Ciarello told the newspaper that Holoka will be buried with his parents in Portage, which is near Cresson, instead of at Arlington National Cemetery.

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