'It's a solemn thing': Remains of WWII vet returning home 76 years after B-24 went down in Romania
By TREVOR BALLANTYNE | Wicked Local Metro, Needham, Mass. | Published: October 19, 2019
NEEDHAM, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — It was 11 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor that Joseph E. Finneran enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
Finneran was part of a crew aboard a B-24 bomber based in Benghazi, Libya during World War II. He flew more than 20 missions before participating in operation Tidal Wave on Aug. 1, 1943. His plane was lost over the Romanian city of Ploiesti.
What was left of the crews' remains, and the remains of the Romanian men caught by the wreckage were buried by monks in a local cemetery with a white cross marking the site.
Now after decades of work by several military and volunteer organizations, a special ceremony will welcome Joseph E. Finneran home to Boston and to the Town of Needham where he was born.
On Friday, Nov. 1, Finneran's remains will arrive via commercial jet at Logan Airport, according to a military spokesperson. A week later, a wake will be held at Doherty's Funeral Home in Needham. The next day, there will be a full military funeral and burial in Boston.
His nephew, Quincy resident Bill Glennon, said the public is welcome to all of it.
"It's a solemn thing, but it happened 75 years ago so it's really more joyous because he has been identified," he said from his home in Quincy on Friday, surrounded by his uncle's memorabilia.
"All the sorrow is over, that ended a long time ago, so it's just to remember a guy who never had the opportunity to be honored as other soldiers did," he said.
"Plus, I love a party," he added.
The American Graves Registration Command is the organization searching for and recovering fallen American personnel in the years after WWII. When they discovered unidentifiable remains, they called them X-Files. Finneran, his remains mixed with others, was X-File 5300. His remains were moved from where the monks had buried them to a cemetery in Neuville-en-Condrol, Belgium.
It wasn't until 11 years ago that Glennon and members of his family provided DNA to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA.)
"I sent off a swab – DNA – and my sister did that and a first cousin," he said. "Before that, when I was growing up, when my mother talked about him, I always knew that he was Missing in Action."
"When I started delving into this – find out, no he wasn't missing in action – he was unidentified," Glennon said.
There were two missions in Operation Tidal Wave. Glennon's uncle flew in the first. The operations were part of an attempt to cripple or destroy key German oil fields in Romania. Flying roughly 200 feet above ground, Finneran's plane "Old Baldy" took a direct hit from an ant-aircraft gun manned by Romania soldiers.
Joe's brother Jack also flew in the Air Corps in World War II. He survived the war, and it was through him that his brothers wartime possessions came home.
"I first started hearing my uncle's name when I was not even a teenager," Glennon said. "I never thought back in the 60's – they didn't know what DNA was!"
A a historical study produced by the DPAA gave a hint at who Joseph Finneran was, Glennon said.
"He was supposedly a very going, easy-going, good-natured," Glennon remembers his mother telling him.
The historical research also helped the DPAA continue to work to find evidence to identify X-FIle 5300. As they found matches for other remains, a process of elimination helped them confirm Finneran's remains for Glennon and his surviving family members.
"It's a wonderful story and it's also a story about how the government has this policy of leaving no one behind," Glennon said of the work done to find a home for his uncle's remains.
"I grew up in the Vietnam generation and the guys over there were so disrespected and they came back and I feel like it is my opportunity to honor him and honor the people that serve."
"We would be speaking with German accents if it wasn't for this generation,' he added.
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