Watch CBS News

World War II Combat Pilot's Remains Returned After 72 Years Missing

RONKONKOMA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- There was a homecoming more than years overdue on Long Island Thursday.

As CBS2's Dick Brennan reported, the remains of a World War II pilot killed in combat, who had been considered missing in action, have been returned. The pilot's family and the military never gave up on bringing the remains home.

At MacArthur Airport on Long Island, a full military honor guard escorted the remains of Lt. Robert Mains.

The pilot was shot down and killed while on a bombing mission over Germany in 1945, just one month before World War II ended.

At the airport, Mains' daughter, Barbara O'Brien, stood transfixed as the casket was carried to a hearse. She had been born just hours before her father was deployed overseas.

"He held me for one day, and then he had to go off to war," O'Brien said.

For the last 72 years, O'Brien only had photos to remind her of the father she never really knew. That was until she received a call two months ago from Pentagon investigators researching tens of thousands of missing in action cases.

They had successfully matched some bones discovered in a German field to the O'Brien family's DNA.

"I feel so blessed of all these men," O'Brien said. "They found my father."

O'Brien's husband, James, is a Vietnam veteran. He joined his wife on the airport tarmac for the emotional ceremony and was left greatly impressed.

"We felt we were embraced by the nation; that they had this type of car for our fallen heroes to bring them back to the honor they deserve," James O'Brien said.

Barbara O'Brien said she will forever remember when she approached her father's casket.

"I was feeling so emotional. This is my father coming down to me. They tell us to live in the moment. I was in that moment," she said. "I ran over. I just threw my arms on there and I said, 'Dad, you've come home to me.' It was very important to me."

O'Brien said the homecoming is all the more special because it comes on her husband's birthday – symbolically joining together the family members who had long cherished Mains' bravery and ultimate sacrifice.

On Saturday morning, Mains' remains will be buried with full military honors at the Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.