73 Years After Death, WWII Pilot Returns Home to Memphis
It's never easy to bid farewell to a fallen soldier — even when their homecoming is more than 70 years after they perished fighting for our country.
It is perhaps all the more poignant that U.S. Army Air Force Second Lieutenant Martin O'Callaghan, Jr. is returning home to his native Tennessee this weekend after being buried in what was formerly Yugoslavia and Italy for 73 years. The Memphis pilot died when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire on February 15th, 1945, while he was serving with the 96th Fighter Squadron, 82nd Fighter Group.
O'Callaghan's remains were found in modern-day Slovenia in 1947 and exhumed in 1948, and then buried at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Italy, though his identification was then not known, and referred to as "Unknown X-36." With DNA analysis last year, along with other clues, his remains were positively identified and his sister Claire Johnson was able to learn her brother had been found. Sadly, she passed away before his remains would begin their journey back to Memphis.
"Marty was a Christian Brothers High School graduate, Memphis native, and World War II hero," Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said, as quoted by WMC5 TV in Memphis. "As a courageous pilot he served his country and as a state we pause to welcome him home." The governor has also declared this Monday, November 5th as a day of mourning to honor the heroic veteran; there will be a service held at the West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetary at 4000 Forest Hill Irene at 10:00am to honor him.
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As Veterans Day approaches this November 11th, we know we'll have O'Callaghan and all the other servicemen and women who died for our country in our thoughts and hearts.