Flags to fly at half staff in honor of WWII airman’s interment in Arlington
Flags will fly at half staff at all Westmoreland County facilities on Tuesday in honor of the repatriation and interment of 1st Lt. Eugene P. Ford, a World War II B24 pilot from Derry Township.
Ford’s remains will be interred Dec. 4 in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, along with the ashes of Vietnam veteran Richard Stanton Ford, the son the young World War II pilot never met.
Eugene Ford was 21 and piloting his 44th mission on Dec. 17, 1944, when his plane, the Tulsamerican, went down in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia after sustaining heavy damage from German fighter planes during a bombing run on the second day of the Battle of the Bulge.
Ford left behind an infant daughter and his 21 year-old widow, Marian McMillen Ford, then pregnant with the son he would never meet.
Matt Zamosky, Westmoreland County Director of Veterans Affairs, said the late Derry Township airman certainly merits recognition both in Arlington and here in his home county.
“It’s rare that we have one of our missing-in-action returned and I think we have to take every opportunity as a community to thank him and his family for their service,” Zamosky said of the decision to lower flags to half staff.
Croatian divers discovered the wreck of the Tulsamerican about 130 feet underwater, near the Isle of Vis, in 2010. A serial number on the rusting hulk buried in silt on the ocean floor identified the plane, the last B24 to roll off the production lines at Douglas Aircraft Co. in Tulsa, Okla.
Ford’s remains and his gold wedding band were recovered during a 19-day international scientific mission in July 2017. His remains were identified later through DNA testing at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s forensic anthropology lab in Hawaii.
Ford’s only surviving child, 74 year-old Norma Ford Beard, said she plans to travel from her home near Indianapolis to attend the ceremony in Arlington.
She said her brother Richard, who retired from the Navy after 20 years with two tours of duty in Vietnam, developed a keen interest in his father’s fate before he died in 2008.
“He asked me if they ever found our father that I would see that he be buried at Arlington. I promised him that,” Beard said. “Their ashes will be in the same niche in Arlington.”
The story of her father’s heroics and the recovery mission was recounted Nov. 7 on PBS’ “NOVA: Last B-24.”