- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

AUGUSTA, Mont. (AP) - “On behalf of the president of the United States, the United States Army and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as an expression of appreciation for the faithful and honorable service rendered by your loved one.”

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Those were the words spoken by Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, adjutant general of the Montana National Guard as he presented the American flag that draped 1st Lt. William Bernier’s casket to Bernier’s family during his burial Friday.

More than 100 people, some in uniform, some with veterans’ service organizations, gathered to honor Bernier as he was buried with full military honors in his hometown of Augusta.

Bernier had been missing since his B-24D Liberator was shot down over the Madang Province, New Guinea, on April 10, 1944. Eight men went down with the plane, including Bernier, according to military records. Four others parachuted out but were captured and executed.

Bernier was born in Augusta in 1915. At the time of his death, he had served one year and three months in the Army Air Forces, having joined the service in January 1943. Bernier attended Montana State University and planned to return to Augusta to ranch following the war.

In June, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, was able to positively Bernier’s remains using DNA from Marlene Howell. She was a relative of Bernier’s on his mother’s side.

Howell and her brother both provided DNA samples in hopes that it would be a match for remains that were located in New Guinea when JPAC teams excavated the crash site, starting in 2009.

“This has just been awesome,” she said of the process to bring Bernier home to his family.

Bernier’s niece, Sandra Jones, decided to have Bernier buried in the veterans section in the Augusta cemetery.

His parents are also buried in the cemetery.

“Maybe they know he’s home,” Howell said. “It’s really special that Sandi brought him back here.”

Senior Airmen Alex Mange and Heather Parks were part of the Malmstrom Air Force Base Honor Guard that gave the 21-gun salute during the service.

“I won’t forget this,” Mange said. “We’re honored. He’s a genuine American hero.”

Parks said the experience was humbling.

“It’s an experience we’ll never forget,” she said.

Army Lt. Timothy Smith escorted Bernier’s remains from Hawaii to Montana this week.

It’s a duty Smith volunteered for, and he escorted Bernier on three flights, exiting each plane first to render a salute as Bernier was unloaded from each plane and placed on the next.

He said it was important for the family to have Bernier home after 70 years, but it was also important to the military members.

“To know that the Army has fulfilled its promise to this individual, it’s very comforting,” he said.

Quinn agreed.

He was part of a ceremony when a Korean War veteran who’d been missing was returned to Hamilton years later.

“It’s very powerful to those of us that serve, knowing that America will not stop until they are home,” he said. “He’s home. That means something.”

And though troops may not say it aloud, Quinn said it’s a thought in the back of their mind.

“If that were me. If that were my family,” he said. “I will be home. They will never stop.”

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Information from: Great Falls Tribune, https://www.greatfallstribune.com


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