WWII Pilot Missing for 73 Years Laid to Rest in Millsboro - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

WWII Pilot Missing for 73 Years Laid to Rest in Millsboro

Posted: Jan 22, 2018 5:04 PM Updated:

MILLSBORO, Del.- Lt. Stanley Stegnerski was laid to rest at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Monday. It marked 73 years since he was shot down in Germany and over a decade of strangers, government officials, and family coming together to bring Stegnerski home.

In 2007, a German historian found a piece of Stegnerski's P-51 in a farmer's field in Gotha, Germany. One year later, students from Gastonia, North Carolina--Gotha's sister city--visited the site, interviewed witnesses, and received a piece of the plane with an identification number. At this point, based on the ID number, it was more than likely the plane was Stegnerski's, but that phone call was almost unbelievable to his family.

"When I called Stanley's brother Henry, he slammed the phone down," says Simon Roe, the chaperone on that trip. "He was indicating to me that 'I don't need to give you any money. This is a con.'"

But Roe got through to Henry's longtime caregiver Janice Tunnell and in 2008, Henry gave his DNA to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, who then conducted a preliminary investigation and added Lt. Stegnerski's crash site to a future recovery list. In 2015, Henry passed away,but Tunnell continued their efforts to bring Stanley home.

"Henry died not really having closure for Stanley," Tunnell tells WBOC. "All of us that were part of Henry's life kind of just laid it to rest and said okay, he knows. He's in heaven, they're together."

But unbeknownst to the Tunnells, in August of 2016, the government excavated the site and discovered human remains. One year later, they positively identified them as Stegnerski's.

"Tears, just tears," Tunnell says, reflecting on the day they found out. "Amazement that it would happen--that they could actually recover a body after all those years."

Later that year, the Tunnells were given Stegnerski's watch that was recovered at the crash site. And just one month after that--January 22, 2018--Stegnerski was laid to rest next to his brother at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery. His remains were greeted by a flag line from the group A Hero's Welcome Delaware.

"This is a brotherhood. Everybody that stands here is either a veteran or a patriot and that's why we are here," Director Rosely Robinson explains. "It means a lot to us every single one of us."

Among Monday's attendees were Brooke Conrad and David Iezzi, both of whom went on that 2008 Sister Cities trip to Gotha. They called their part in Stegnerski's homecoming and burial humbling.

"I can't believe I contributed to something that was this big," Conrad says. "I can bring closure to someone so it's an honor."

"It's been about eight years since we originally went," adds Iezzi. "After that period of time to now have everything come together--both through the sister cities program, JPAC, DPAA [Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency]. all of the work put into it--if all of those things hadn't fallen into place, we wouldn't be here."

Stanley's niece, Tina Francino, was also in attendance. Her late father, Ted, served in WWII alongside his brothers Henry and Stanley. Francino says Stanley's homecoming meant the world to her immediate family.

"My dad passed away in 2002, but my whole life he always spoke so lovingly of Stanley," she tells WBOC.

After Monday's memorial service, Stegnerski received a gun salute. Tunnell was then given the flag that laid on Stegnerski's casket. Finally, his remains were placed by his late brother Henry's.

"He's home where he needs to be," Tunnell tells WBOC of Stanley. "He's beside his brother. Laid to rest beside his brother, and I don't think I could've asked for any more."

For more on Lt. Stegnerski's story, click here. 

 

 

 

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