After 80 years, WWII pilot who died fighting Nazi regime laid to rest in West
The remains of Lt. Louis Girard were accounted for in March
WEST, Texas (KWTX) - It was a funeral almost eighty years in the making.
“He’d be so proud, he would,” said Helen Girard Pomykal. “And having some Aggies here and everything, it was wonderful.”
Pomykal is the sister, and last living immediate family member, of 1st Lt. Louis Girard who, thanks to DNA technology, was buried in West over the weekend 79 years after he was killed while co-piloting a B-24 Liberator aircraft during WWII.
“It hurt, but there was a book written, Ploesti, and we found out a lot of information about the raid and everything through that, through the book, but it was hard losing him, as a little girl I remember,” said Pomykal.
Pomykal was ten-years-old at the time.
There’s a discrepancy between Girard’s age at his death: the family says he was 21, however, military records have him at age 20.
Pomykal says most of what she knows of her brother is through is letters and dairies.
She says she wishes she’d gotten the chance to know him better.
“That’s the sad part about it, we have all his letters and we have the, he has a diary, and all the time he mentioned us, and that’s how I got to know him most is through that because he always remembered each one of us, and he was just such a sweet person,” Pomykal told KWTX.
She remembers the sorrow her family felt losing Louis, however, she only vaguely remembers her big brother in-person because after he graduated from West High School he went off to college at Texas A&M University, then he left TAMU to join the military--not the American military at first.
“He hitchhiked to Canada to join the Canadian Air Force because America wasn’t at war,” said Pomykal.
While he wasn’t technically old enough to be an American pilot when the U.S. did enter the war (the age was 21), his Canadian experience provided a loophole and he flew for the U.S. Army Air Force and was assigned to the 68th Bombardment Squadron, 44th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force.
On Aug. 1, 1943, a day which would later be called Black Sunday, he was one of the 225 airmen killed during Operation Tidal Wave, a mission to bomb Hitler’s oil refineries in Romania and known as the bloodiest air battle in the history of war.
According to the military, his remains were buried in an unknown American soldiers cemetery in Romania, and later in Belgium.
However, in March, thanks to DNA technology, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Girard was finally accounted for.
“It’s amazing, it’s so caring and everything, it’s really wonderful,” Pomykal said of the program reuniting the remains of fallen soldiers to their loved ones.
Like Girard, many of the Tidal Wave airmen were unable to be identified at the time of their death.
As a result, five years ago the DPAA started exhuming these specific “unknowns”, about 80 of them that were at the Bolovan Cemetery in Romania, which were unable to be identified by the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) following the war.
The military says those remains were then permanently interred at two cemeteries in Belgium until 2017 when they were sent to a lab at Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska for examination.
“Is a long and very involved process, it starts off with our historians and research analysts, and they go through all of the records...and they’ll do extensive research that, you know, they go through unit records, and they go through individual personnel records and eyewitness accounts and, you know, sometimes history books and different things like that, all these different sources to narrow down the possibilities of where these different people might be,” said Lt. Col. Sean Everette, DPAA spokesperson. “And then, part of it goes to the services, and services have to find living family members for all of these different these different service members that are buried as unknowns so that we can get DNA reference samples, we call them family reference samples, so that we can get this for us from the families because we have to have a certain number or a certain percentage of DNA reference samples to be allowed to disinter these these unknowns from these cemeteries to get them to our our laboratory.”
In addition to DNA, scientists used dental and anthropological analysis to identify and match the remains.
“Especially when the remains are commingled, you know, our our forensic anthropologists liken it to putting together a jigsaw puzzle,” said Everette. “They have all of these all of these pieces, and then they have to put them together and match them to make sure they all go together, and they can do that by analysis.”
Everette says they have a second lab in Hawaii at Joint Base Pearl Harbor but all DNA samples are sent to the Armed Forced Medical Examiner’s DNA identification laboratory at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
“DNA really became a factor in the nineties...(but in many of our cases) we’re talking old DNA and sometimes even your damaged remains, especially if they were in a plane crash that caught on fire or where the remains might have been burned...there’s all kinds of challenges that that the Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s system runs into when when analyzing this DNA,” said Everette. “But they’ve been very, very successful, and it is one of the biggest and best tools that we have to be able to identify identify these servicemembers.”
To date, the agency has identified the remains of 19 Tidal Wave airmen, and Everette says more are coming.
“In the case of a lot of the ‘unknowns’ from the past, like the air raid, they weren’t able to identify them back then, but that doesn’t mean we just let them lie as unknowns,” said Everette. “We still have that sacred ground, that sacred promise to not only the service members, but to that service member’s family and to the country, to find out who these service members are and then bring them home to their families to be laid to rest where the family chooses.”
Once Girard’s remains were accounted for, a soldier out of Fort Hood was appointed to assist the family.
“I was notified that there was a fallen remains repatriation mission for Lt. Girard, and from there I contacted the family members and got in touch and figured out what coordination needed to be made from funeral services to planeside honors,” said Capt. Samuel Kim, Casualty Assistance Officer for Lt. Girard.
On May 27, Girard’s remains arrived at a Dallas airport and were transported to West where citizens lined the streets to welcome him home.
Kim says the DPAA program brings families, like the Girards, long-deserved closure.
“It just shows that we are truly the greatest fighting force in the world,” said Kim. “We do not leave our fallen behind, no matter how long it takes.”
On Saturday, Girard’s family was presented with a patriotic Quilt of Service, sewn by two women in New Mexico, during his funeral at Aderhold Funeral Home before being laid to rest at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
He was buried next to his brother who also served.
During the service, the U.S. Army presented Pomykal with the flag from her brother’s coffin and shots rang out in his honor.
Pomykal, one of six Girard siblings, says their family home where she was born was very close to the burial site.
“You could look across the field, probably about two miles, and our farm was there,” said Pomykal.
She says she’s grateful to have lived long enough to see her brother’s homecoming.
Throughout the years, she says, they talked about him all the time.
“I think sometimes people thought we ran it into the ground,” she laughed. “But we were just real proud of him, and missed him, too.”
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