By CHRIS CAROLA | AP
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- While growing up in central New York, Mark Shoemaker heard plenty of stories from family members about his Uncle Eddie, a World War II fighter pilot who never returned from the Pacific Theater.
"I knew him just as if he were living in the house," said Shoemaker, a Vietnam veteran from Boonville, north of Utica.
On Wednesday, the remains of 2nd Lt. Edward F. Barker were returned to New York for burial in his Mohawk Valley hometown, more than 70 years after he failed to return from a training mission over Papua New Guinea. The flag-draped casket bearing Barker's remains was transferred from a commercial flight to a waiting hearse by an Army honor guard from Fort Drum in northern New York. The hearse then made the 65-mile drive west to Herkimer, where Barker will be buried this weekend following a graveside funeral.
The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced last week that the remains had been identified.
After graduating from high school in 1940, Barker worked at a garage and then at Remington Arms in neighboring Ilion before enlisting into the U.S. Army in 1943. After completing training as a pilot in the Army Air Forces, he was sent to New Guinea in the southwest Pacific. On Sept. 30, 1944, he took off in his P-47 Thunderbolt for a training mission. The DPAA said a search was launched when Barker's plane failed to return to base, but nothing was found.
In 1962, a U.S. military team discovered P-47 wreckage on a mountain, but no evidence of the pilot could be located. Another team visited the site in 2002, again without discovering any remains. A decade later, an excavation of the same site uncovered human remains, wreckage, military gear and personal items, including Barker's dog tags and flight school ring.
The remains were positively identified earlier this year as Barker's through evidence collected from the site and DNA provided by Shoemaker and his sister.
Shoemaker, 67, said his grandmother and mother, Barker's younger sister and only sibling, often talked about the 21-year-old pilot who as an outgoing teenager had been president of his high school class and manager of the football team. Both women died not without ever finding out what happened to Barker.
On Saturday, he'll be laid to rest with full military honors at Calvary Cemetery in Herkimer, in a plot next to his mother's. It's a belated homecoming, but one for which Shoemaker is thankful.
"We finally get to put him next to her," said Shoemaker, who flew helicopter gunships in Vietnam. "That's a big deal to me."
It's the second time in two years that the remains of a WWII airman from the Mohawk Valley have been returned from Papua New Guinea. In early August 2013, Sgt. Dominick Licari's remains were brought home for burial in Frankfort, 4 miles west of Herkimer. Licari died when his two-man bomber crashed into a jungle-covered mountain in 1944. His remains weren't recovered until April 2012 and were identified later that year.