- Associated Press - Saturday, January 3, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The remains of a World War II airman were laid to rest Saturday in his hometown, more than 70 years after he crashed in the Solomon Islands

Army Air Force Maj. Peyton Mathis Jr. disappeared June 5, 1944. Mathis, 28, was piloting a P-38J Lightning on a bombing mission when he lost an engine and crashed in a jungle swamp on Guadalcanal.

Mathis was buried with military honors at Greenwood Cemetery in Montgomery, the Montgomery Advertiser (https://on.mgmadv.com/1Bv0ZsI ) reported.

“Welcome home,” said the Rev. John Coleman, who officiated at the graveside service.

Coleman described Mathis as a husband, soldier, scholar, gentleman and “a true American hero.”

Mathis’ nephew told The Associated Press that the family knew the young airman was killed instantly because another pilot witnessed the crash. However, his plane and remains were not found until 2013.

The younger Mathis was born after his uncle died. However, he came to know him through family stories and the letters he sent home from the Pacific and Africa during the war.

The World War II pilot always had a yearning for the sky. He took flying lessons and earned his pilot’s license on his own before volunteering as an aviation cadet. He joined the Army Air Corps before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Mathis was a 1932 graduate of Sidney Lanier High School and had a degree in chemical engineering degree from Vanderbilt University. Mathis was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Silver Star, according to his obituary.

The final journey home to Alabama began when an Australian man living on Guadalcanal discovered the aircraft.

The widow of the World War II airman is still living, but is in poor health and could not attend the funeral, family members said.

Peyton Mathis III said onlookers clapped, saluted and wiped away tears when his uncle’s flag-covered coffin arrived under military guard at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport earlier this week.

“It was emotional, nice,” he said.

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