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Remains of WWII pilot return home at last

By BOB COUPLAND

Staff writer

A special service and heroás procession will take place today in Chester, W.Va., for a World War II veteran who had been missing for decades.

Richard Horriganás niece, Karen Conklin of Liberty, said she and her family will be among those attending. She serves as a spokeswoman for the family of the Army Air Force 1st lieutenant.

The Defense POW/ MIA Accounting Agency announced earlier this year that Horrigan, 24, of Chester, who was killed during WWII, was accounted for on Aug. 19, 2021.

In April 1945, Horrigan was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces, serving in Germany. He crashed while strafing enemy planes behind enemy lines, according to the accounting agency.

Conklin said her cousin, Dr. Richard Horrigan, 76, of San Francisco, a retired physician and Richard Horriganás only child, will attend the event to honor his father.

Plans are for Horrigan to be buried with full military honors with a West Virginia and Washington, D.C., honor guard along with an escort by Chester police, fire and Hancock County sheriffás vehicles.

Conklin said the American Legion in Florida has donated 150 flags, and yellow ribbons will line Carolina Avenue. The Chester Lions Club also will display flags from the Flags for Heroes program.

His remains arrived in the Ohio Valley on Friday morning, landing at Pittsburgh International Airport before being escorted to his hometown by an assembly of veterans and local law enforcement. Among them was a group of approximately 30 members of the Legion Riders, who gathered at the American Legion Post 10 in Weirton before riding to the airport, where they would meet with representatives of the West Virginia Patriot Guard and others before accompanying the World War II pilot’s remains back to Hancock County.

âWeáre escorting them all the way to Chester to Arner Funeral Home,ã Jack Newbrough of Weirton said.

The escort also included representatives of the Hancock County Sheriffás Office and the Chester Police Department.

NEVER KNEW FATHER

Conklin said the family has only memories.

Her fatherás sister was married to Richard Horrigan.

âMy cousin never knew his dad. I watched my cousin grow up without a father. It will be hard to bury the dad he never knew. It has been emotional for him and the family,áá she said.

Conklin said her own parents served in the military with her father in the Navy and her mother in the Coast Guard.

She said it wasnát until they were much older that they shared stories of service.

âIn a small town like Chester, it will be nice to bring the community out to pay respect and say thank you to a WWII veteran and hero who is from here. This is 77 years in the making. The whole family is grateful that he is being buried and his sacrifice is not being unnoticed,ã Conklin said.

Conklin said the public is invited to watch the procession to the cemetery. Residents are invited to participate by lining Carolina Avenue.

FIGHTER PILOT

Horrigan was a 1938 graduate of Chester High School. He trained to be a fighter pilot and was sent overseas as a pilot with the 22nd Fighter Squadron, 36th Fighter Group, 9th Army Air Force.

Conklin said a team from History Flight Inc. excavated the site in eastern Germany where Horrigan crashed in April 1945. The excavation took place in the summer of 2019, and Horriganás remains were positively identified in 2021.

According to the Defense POW/ MIA Accounting Agency, Horrigan was flying missions when his fighter plane, a P-47D Thunderbolt, was shot down in eastern Germany.

Horrigan was a part of an armed reconnaissance mission to the Alt Lunnewitz Airfield on April 19. Horriganás wingman witnessed the crash, but because the airfield was behind enemy lines, Horrigan could not be recovered.

Horrigan, 24, presumably died on impact near the airfield on April 19, three weeks before the end of the war in Europe.

Once sufficient evidence became available that he had not survived, a report of death for Horrigan was issued in November 1945.

Officials with the accounting agency indicated Horriganás remains could not be recovered because the airfield was behind enemy lines and recovery by the American Graves Registration Command became next to impossible. Because Alt Lunnewitz Airfield was under strict control of Soviet forces, they could not investigate Horriganás crash.

A German national was able to investigate on behalf of the AGRC in 1953, confirming through an eyewitness human remains had been seen at the crash, but they were never recovered and buried. Because the AGRC was not allowed to investigate the site, Horrigan was declared non-recoverable in October 1953.

EXCAVATION AND RECOVERY

History Flight Inc. is a nonprofit that took on the task of locating and excavating Horriganás remains.

The Defense POW/ MIA Accounting Agency returned in 2017 to the site and located what it believed was Horriganás aircraft. In June 2019, the accounting agency contracted with History Flight Inc. to do the actual excavation and recovery.

Material evidence and possible remains were recovered and initially transferred to the police in Herzberg, Germany, before being sent to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for analysis in August 2019, according to a news release.

Scientists from the DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis as well as circumstantial and material evidence and scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner used DNA analysis to make a positive identification in August 2021.

The DPAA indicates Horriganás name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Hombourg, Belgium, along with the others still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

bcoupland@tribtoday.com

Craig Howell, managing editor of the Weirton Daily Times, a sister publication of The Vindicator, contributed to this story.

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