CHICAGO (WLS) -- After 76 years, Army Air Forces Sgt. Francis W. Wiemerslage, who was killed in action in Germany during World War II, has returned home to Chicago and will be buried Saturday in his hometown of River Grove.
"It's hard to believe it's really happening, and that so many people care," said Phil Wiemerslage, the WWII veteran's nephew.
Sgt. Wiemerslage, 20, was a ball turret gunner onboard a B-17G Flying Fortress bomber when the plane was shot down on March 2, 1945, according to the U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
On October 15th, 2021, Sgt. Wiemerslage's remains were flown to Midway Airport, where a fire department water cannon greeted the aircraft, along with family members and veterans.
"I'm honored and humbled to be part of it," his nephew said. "I know my Dad would have wanted to and my uncle. But myself, two sisters and my cousin are left to see it through."
Enemy fighters shot down the B-17 between Berlin and Leipzig on March 2, 1945. Seven of nine crew members were killed, according to the U.S. Army Human Resource Command.
All the airmens' remains, except Sgt. Wiemerslage's, were found. The Zullsdorf region became the focus of searches in 1953, when bones and part of wallet were discovered, and another search followed in 2019, according to the command.
In 2019, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency contracted Western Carolina University to excavate several possible locations in the Zullsdorf area. Materials found during that search were sent to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for scientific analysis.
On August 24, 2021, after studying DNA testing and other circumstantial evidences, the DPAA concluded that Sgt. Wiemerslage was "accounted for."
"Heartfelt gratefulness they put into it," said Phil, his nephew, "and the amount of work."
Now his family is treasuring the moment, the medals, and the memories.
"It's kind of like a reminder of our freedoms, for this country that he died for," Phil Wiemerslage said, "along with so many other men and women."
On Saturday, Sgt. Wiemerslage will be interred at St. Joseph Cemetery in River Grove. Relatives said he will be buried next to his mother and brother.