EFFINGHAM, IL (KTVI)-- The missing remains of a World War II pilot from Effingham, IL will be buried beside his parents next month. Lt. Charles "Butch" Moritz died in a mid-air collision and fiery crash in northern England the day after D-Day in 1944.
"Lt. Moritz has been missing for almost 68 years and this is an opportunity for closure for the family, for the military," said U.S. Army Major Aaron McPherson who is in charge of the military's role in Thursday's welcome home ceremony and the funeral on May 5 in Effingham.
Phil Best, whose mother was one of Lt. Moritz's sisters, was born after his death. But he remembers family stories about the uncle they called "Butch." "He loved animals; he played polo; he was real smart. I just heard a lot of great things about him," Best remarked as he waited for the ceremony outside the cargo facilities at St. Louis Lambert Airport.
Best said English aircraft enthusiasts looking for crash sites located this one on an English farm. The site was excavated last summer and the remains taken to a military facility in Hawaii where they work to identify them.
The military used DNA samples from Best and his older sister to confirm that the remains belonged to Moritz in February. His dog tags and wallet were found during the excavation.
The 22-year old Moritz had been on a training mission when the accident occurred. Family members speculated that since it happened the day after the Allied invasion of France, military staff had more pressing responsibilities than to search a crash site where it was clear there were no survivors.
He was piloting a P-51 C Mustang, one of the workhorse fighter planes of World War II. Those fighters generally accompanied long range bombers as they flew missions in Germany.
Seventy-five members of the Missouri and Illinois Patriot Guard groups lined up outside a cargo building on the edge of Lambert Airport to salute as a military honor guard carried the flag draped casket to a waiting hearse. They then formed a motorcycles escort to accompany pilot's remains the more than 100 miles to Effingham.
"We want to make sure past veterans know we care," said Terry Spurgeon, a Patriot Guard escort. He said many of the groups' members are Vietnam veterans who were ignored or chastized when they returned home from the war zone.
Major McPherson said, "This is a very big honor for me to be able to represent the military in this event and I'm very excited to have this opportunity."
The funeral service will full military honors and a fly over by Illinois National Guard helicopters will take place May 5 at 1PM at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Effingham. Lt. Moritz will be buried next to his parents.