Remains of WWII flier will return to St. Joseph

Sunday, May 14, 2006

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Helen Pennington was young and pregnant when the plane carrying her first husband crashed during a World War II mission.

But the widow was unable to bury David Eppright because the location of the wreckage was not known. Eppright, a second lieutenant in the Army Air Force, had navigated the B-24D Liberator that never returned from the mission shadowing a Japanese convoy.

That changed four years ago when a hunter found the plane in a mountain gully in New Guinea.

Just last month, the Department of the Army dispatched a casualty official to St. Joseph to deliver Eppright's dog tags and a report about the crash to Pennington. The couple's son, David Bauman, flew in from Pittsburgh, Pa., for the presentation.

Eppright's remains are scheduled to arrive May 20.

After a memorial service three days later in St. Joseph, Eppright will be buried with military honors at Sunset Hills Cemetery in his native Warrensburg. A missing-in-action marker had stood for decades in the graveyard.

The night before the lieutenant's funeral, the casket will be opened for Pennington's viewing.

"If everybody's worked this hard to get it," she said, "I feel like the only thing I can do is to recognize that and appreciate their efforts by opening the casket and looking at what they found."

Later this summer, Eppright and the other eight members of the crew will be remembered during a service at Arlington National Cemetery.

Pennington, who has lived most of the postwar years in St. Joseph, approaches the coming memorial services with a bittersweet optimism.

"It reminds me of happy days," she said. "You recall that and wish there had been more, of course."

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