Hero WWII pilot remains returned to brother after 75 years: 'I got my wish'
By THOMAS TRACY AND CATHY BURKE | New York Daily News | Published: November 18, 2019
NEW YORK (Tribune News Service) -- A young World War II bomber pilot shot down and killed in Germany is back home, ending a heartbreaking mission his now 92-year-old brother vowed to complete for the fallen hero.
About an hour after sunset Friday, the remains of 2nd Lt. John McTigue were solemnly carried from an American Airlines flight that landed at JFK, as Port Authority police saluted the casket -- and his closest living relative, brother Thomas McTigue, watched with pride and gratitude.
"When they brought the plane in and the police officers stood at attention, it was wonderful," McTigue told the Daily News.
"As John was taken off the plane, the passengers had to stay on the plane until after the ceremony. The military handled everything, putting him into the hearse and going back to the funeral home. Highway patrolmen escorted us the whole way."
He said the return brought him a peace he'd been seeking for 75 years.
"It was very important to me to make sure he came back home," McTigue, who lives in Wantagh, L.I., told The News, "It was my wish that I lived long enough to do this and I got my wish."
John McTigue, 22, was an Army Air Corps co-pilot of a B-17G Flying Fortress that was struck by German anti-aircraft fire and crashed during a raid over Merseburg, Germany, on Aug. 24, 1944, the Defense Department reports. While four crew members survived and were captured by German forces, five others, including John McTigue, were killed.
McTigue proudly pointed out those who survived did so because his brother told them to ditch the crippled craft.
"Engine 4 is on fire, get out!" the young pilot screamed over the intercom, McTigue said a survivor told him. The survivor parachuted out just as a German plane rammed the B-17, tearing it in half, McTigue said.
McTigue said his older brother was living out a lifelong dream when he became a pilot.
"John used to make model airplanes all the time and every time he could he used to go out to Floyd Bennett Field [in Brooklyn] so he could be around the planes," his brother told The News, adding the pair grew up on the Upper East Side.
"When the war started, John had graduated at the top of his class, so when he signed up with the Army he was a candidate for aviation. They trained him as a fighter pilot, but they needed B-17 bomber pilots because they were losing so many. That's why he was transferred to that division."
Thomas McTigue was in the Navy when he got word John had been killed in action. He went home for two weeks to be with his mother.
"I did the best I could for my mother, then I went back to the naval training station," he said.
McTigue said he kept the last letter his brother wrote to him before he died.
"I had asked him if he was seeing a lot of action and he wrote back and told me he'd seen enough to last a lifetime," he told The News.
But he never knew where John's remains were -- until 2013, when he got a letter from a woman in North Carolina who had made it her mission to track down and identify World War II pilots whose remains were missing.
She told McTigue she believed her brother's body was buried in the Leipzig-Lindenthal Cemetery in Germany, near where the plane went down. Three years later, McTigue reached out to the Army's POW/MIA group in Kentucky and asked about the woman's discovery.
After he and other family members provided their DNA, a match with the remains was verified and the military began steps to bring John McTigue home.
On Sunday, a memorial service was held in Wantagh. A military funeral was set to take place on Monday in Woodside, Queens.
"After Monday, I can finally rest," McTigue told The News. "What will be, will be."
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