NEW KENSINGTON (KDKA) — They’ve been waiting nearly 70 years, but the family of a World War II veteran is finally getting some closure.
A funeral was held Saturday for Marine Corporal John Yeager of New Kensington. His remains were recently found in the South Pacific.
The funeral for Cpl. Yeager was a long awaited welcome home for an American hero missing in action.
“What a blessing to think this man that left this town is now back; 68 years later, he’s back,” said Pastor Kurt Skelly, of the Harvest Baptist Church. “He was just a young man.”
The 23-year-old Yeager was one of seven crewmen aboard a Navy bomber that crashed in 1944 on the island of Espiritu Santo. Searchers recently found the wreckage in a mountainous region of the island.
“To fight, to sift through sand and dirt and trees, and they made it, and they brought all of our soldiers home, all seven of them from that wreckage,” said Marilyn Claasen, Yeager’s niece.
Claasen wears a wedding ring that was found with his remains.
“I know that he feels the presence of us, the family, with him, and we certainly feel his presence being with us today,” Claasen added. “It’s a good day.”
Claasen says she didn’t know Cpl. Yeager, but her brother Daniel Harkins, who was 12-years-old, shared memories of their uncle.
“He always talked to me about scouts, and before I was even a scout myself, I knew the Boy Scout oath,” Harkins said.
While they celebrate Cpl. Yeager’s life, family members are praying for all servicemen and women.
“Today isn’t just about John D. Yeager, it’s about every veteran, every serviceman and woman that is out there today,” said Claasen. “It’s also about the servicemen and women who haven’t come back yet. And were hoping for their return someday, too.”
Pastor Skelly says Yeager came from a generation that made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom.
“They certainly were the greatest generation – that thought nothing of sacrifice, that thought nothing of giving the ultimate price; and so Jack did that for us even though we didn’t know it for years,” he said.