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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The remains of Army Air Force Sgt. Vernon Hamilton, of Monongahela, are back in southwestern Pennsylvania.

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The fallen airman was returned to his loved ones Thursday evening at Pittsburgh International Airport, flanked by an Army Honor Guard, the 99th Division Readiness Casualty Funeral Honor Team, along with Allegheny County Police and the Patriot Guard.

Vernon Hamilton (Photo Courtesy: Donn Atkins)

Hamilton was 19 years old when his bomber aircraft crashed in Germany in 1945. At the time, he and two other crewmen were flying a combat mission. For decades, they were declared missing in action.

It wasn’t until 2016 when the plane’s crash site was found in a horse paddock area.

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The site was excavated. Among the items recovered were Hamilton’s high school ring and, eventually, the remains of Hamilton and the other crew members, who were positively identified through DNA matches.

Among his relatives at the airport was his niece, Shelley Atkins.

“I’m so proud of him. He gave up a lot. At 19, 18, you have a lot of things that you want to do in your life, and Vern put his country before him,” she told KDKA News. “For this to happen is just unbelievable. I mean, it’s something we’ve always wished for and now he’s here, so it’s been a big celebration. A lot of emotions, happiness, sad.”

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

“We initially found out that this was a possibility that they had found the aircraft. And then the next thing we knew, they were asking for DNA samples to definitively say whether it was Vern. And once that happened, lots of things started to happen. His mother that wanted him to come home all these years, he’ll be buried right next to her,” Donn Atkins, another relative, said.

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Following a funeral procession through the streets of his hometown, Hamilton will be laid to rest on Saturday in Monongahela Cemetery with full military honors.