On Feb. 25, 1944, Army Air Forces Sgt. Alfonso Duran’s B-24 Liberator was shot down and crash landed in the former Yugoslavia.
Now, 74 years later, Duran is coming home to his final resting place.
In late May, Duran’s family was informed that a U.S. government team had recovered remains next to a church in the Slovenian countryside and had identified them as belonging to the late sergeant, according to Stars and Stripes.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Duran’s remains were formally accounted for on May 22.
In the war, Duran served as part of the 724th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 451st Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force and was flying in a formation on his final day to bomb a German factory in the Regensburg area.
Under heavy fire from German planes and anti-aircraft artillery, Duran’s B-24 Liberator, nicknamed “Knock it Off,” lost a significant portion of its right wing and plunged down, out of sight, into the Slovenian territory. The moment was witnessed by the tail gunner in another nearby aircraft.
While all nine of Duran’s crewmates bailed out of the plunging aircraft, Duran did not, instead going down with his ship.
The trail to find Duran’s remains went cold for nearly 70 years until 2006, when Slovenian researchers provided information to the Defense Pow/Missing Personnel Office, the predecessor of DPAA, about a plane that had crashed near Pokojisce in February of 1944.
A body had been removed from the wreckage of the aircraft and buried behind the village church.
Six years later, after various field research missions, investigators with DPAA came to the conclusion that the remains almost certainly belonged to Duran.
Last July, DPAA secured permission to do an excavation near the village church, finally finding human remains after a tip from a local pointed them in the right direction.
According to Pat Duran, a niece of the late sergeant, DPAA was able make an identification through DNA samples sent in by family members,
Pat Duran told Stars and Stripes that her uncle’s remains will be laid to rest in a cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, near where the fallen sergeant grew up.
“We are so grateful to everyone who contributed to his return, the DPAA, Renata, the Slovenian government officials, and the villagers that tried to protect his remains,” Pat Duran told Stars and Stripes.
Noah Nash is a rising senior at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. At school, he is the editor in chief of the Collegian Magazine and the digital director of the Collegian, Kenyon's newspaper.