His life ended in the skies over eastern Germany six decades ago.
Second Lt. Howard C. Enoch Jr. was 19, a Kentucky patriot with a cheerful grin - a fighter pilot who had been in the U.S. Army Air Corps less than a year. He took off in his P-51D Mustang from a British air base one early spring, never to return. German planes had found the lone pilot; his aircraft went down on March 19, 1945.
Back home, his wife waited. She was 17, with a child six months along. But her husband was lost, never to know the son and namesake born that summer, the plane declared unrecoverable.
And no wonder. The wreckage was scattered over a countryside that was to fall under control of the communists who welcomed few outsiders behind the Iron Curtain, even on heartfelt missions.
But the American military is not wont to leave their boys behind.
Howard Enoch is coming home 63 years later. The Defense Department announced Wednesday that his remains had been recovered, identified and would be buried with full military honorsat Arlington National Cemetery in September.
“The recovery of this serviceman who was missing so long is an example of this nation’s commitment to honor not only his sacrifice, but his family’s as well,” said Air Force Capt. Mary Olsen, spokeswoman for the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.
“The efforts involved in recoveries like this involved more than 600 people, from those who excavated the crash site to DNA technicians to service casualty officers who look after the families left behind,” she said.
Howard Enoch III was among those left behind. He was contacted about a year ago with startling news. Following a tip from a local historian, Defense Department recovery teams surveyed a suspected P-51 crash site near the village of Doberschutz in 2004, and excavated the area two year later - recovering human remains in the wreckage. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory made a positive identification.
“I pretty well fell apart with that news. I was just incredibly amazed, happy and sad all at once. My dad was coming home, and coming home to a place of honor,” said Mr. Enoch, now director of the Robsham Theater Arts Center at Boston College.
“My father married my mother and almost immediately shipped out. She never saw him again and turned 18 right after he died. I never had hope of knowing about my dad, so this has been profound. I am incredibly grateful to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, and the work they do to bring our boys home,” Mr. Enoch said.
He has some sense of closure now, though the stretch of lost years leaves him melancholy at times. The father of two young daughters, Mr. Enoch expects to bring his family to Washington for the burial and help them understand the grandfather they never knew and a war hero who was awarded an Air Medal and a Purple Heart.
“The girls are both under 10. It will take them awhile to understand. But one thing I am sure of. Now I have a place to go to visit my dad,” Mr. Enoch added.
The work of recovery teams continues.
More than 74,000 Americans remain unaccounted for from World War II alone. Investigation and recovery teams are scheduled in the next few months to journey to India, Japan and South Pacific sites, as well as Germany, Poland and Italy.
Lt. Enoch also is remembered by the Patriot Guard, a nationwide organization of motorcyclists who have accompanied funeral processions of Iraq casualties as a gesture of honor since 2005. An online site devoted to the memory of the fallen pilot was filling with messages Wednesday.
“You were never forgotten by your loved ones or a grateful nation. Welcome home,” said one missive.
“Rest in peace, solider/airman. Your mission is complete,” said another.