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WWII pilot, who flew nine crewmen to safety before crashing, finally laid to rest

1st Lt. John D.Crouchley Jr. died in a crash outside of Churen, Bulgaria, during World War II. In a combined effort between his nephew, a historian, and the son of a crew member, Crouchley's remains were recovered by a U.S. military recovery team in 2017.

VIA SMITH-MASON FUNERAL HOME

By BRIAN AMARAL | Providence Journal | Published: May 4, 2019

BRISTOL (Tribune News Service) — The long journey home for a World War II aviator finally came to an end Saturday with a funeral in Bristol.

Lt. John Dudley Crouchley Jr. was laid to rest next to his wife and son in the North Burial Ground almost 75 years after he died in fighting over Europe.

Time has passed, but feelings still lingered with the low cloud cover that prevented a military flyover Saturday. The tears from some in the crowd of dozens of family and community members were of grief, but also in part of relief.

"It's emotional," said John Dudley Crouchley IV, his grandson, "but it's almost like a homecoming."

An honor guard played taps and fired a three-volley salute. Lieutenant Crouchley's descendants, including Autumn Williams, his granddaughter, were presented with an American flag.

"It's nice to finally have closure," Williams said.

Crouchley, a Hope High School and Rhode Island College graduate, was a first lieutenant in the Army Air Forces based in Italy. He was flying a B-24 bomber in an operation over Romania in June 1944 when he was attacked by enemy aircraft. Crouchley successfully guided the plane so that nine other crew members could escape and parachute into neighboring Bulgaria, but he was unable to save himself before the plane crashed into a mountain.

His remains were missing for decades. Fourteen years ago, an effort was launched to uncover the mystery, in part deepened by confusion about where his plane had gone down. His relatives, the relatives of other crew members and a retired police officer all played a part in the effort. With the help of DNA testing and an archaeological dig, the news came last year that Crouchley's remains had been located in Bulgaria.

The mystery had been solved; on Thursday, Crouchley's remains arrived at T.F. Green Airport with military honors.

Captain John Hatfield, a Rhode Island Army National Guard chaplain, told the mourners at Crouchley's funeral Saturday that Crouchley's life and death were "so long ago, but still affecting our lives today."

Love, Hatfield said, was often portrayed as a feeling, rather than a sacrifice – as the way people make us feel, rather than pouring ourselves out for others. With his actions in the skies over wartime Europe, Crouchley exemplified sacrifice for his crew, his family and his country, Hatfield said. "He was a man who laid down his life."

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