Long-lost WWII pilot from Derry finally buried in Arlington National Cemetery
A B24 pilot from Derry Township who died during a World War II mission was finally laid to rest Tuesday.
The remains of 1st Lt. Eugene P. Ford were interred at Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C., with full military honors. Also part of the inurnment were ashes of Vietnam veteran Richard Stanton Ford, the son the pilot never met.
Flags were ordered to fly at half-staff at all Westmoreland County facilities Tuesday in honor of Ford.
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. It had sustained 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 Richard Stanton Ford.
Croatian divers in 2010 discovered the Tulsamerican about 130 feet underwater on the ocean floor near the Isle of Vis. A serial number on the rusting hulk 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, traveled 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.
The story of her father’s heroics and the recovery mission was recounted Nov. 7 on PBS’ “NOVA: Last B-24.”