Image copyright Bernd Erickson/Medal of Honor. Distributed by CQ Roll Call Image caption In August 2017, Fred Konther’s remains were identified through DNA analysis
An aviation enthusiast has reunited the remains of a World War II pilot with his family 80 years after he was killed in action.
Fred Konther, a 31-year-old private, was shot down over Japan’s Konan Island during his first mission on 14 February 1943.
When his damaged aircraft finally landed on its own – over the bay of Mount Fuji – it was set on fire and Konther was unable to make a parachute jump.
Instead he parachuted to the ground, emerging to find his comrades’ life belts had been thrown off, and the bottom half of his aircraft had gone up in flames.
© Bernd Erickson/Medal of Honor. Distributed by CQ Roll Call Image caption Jean Konther moved to Mount Olympus, Wisconsin, in 2006 after the death of her father
Two days later, Konther’s body was found near the wreckage site.
The medics carried his charred remains on their shoulders up to an Indian River island, where they were rehydrated, before bringing him to the mainland and taking him to hospital.
However, all evidence suggests Konther died of his injuries, and by the time his case was investigated, his death certificate said he had died the day before his plane was shot down.
“Fred Konther was only the third United States airman lost during WWII to have his remains returned for burial and the only casualty transferred to America,” said the US Navy.
Image copyright Bernd Erickson/Medal of Honor. Distributed by CQ Roll Call Image caption Fred Konther’s family initially thought he had died in the war
Konther – who was born in the US state of Nebraska, was reared in Queens, New York, and earned a BA degree from Columbia University – moved to Mount Olympus, Wisconsin, in 2006 after the death of his wife from cancer.
He was laid to rest in the cemetery in Mount Olympus, the town where he and his wife had met when they were both 17.
Shortly after the death of his daughter Jean, Jean contacted Fred’s family. She was delighted to learn that his remains had finally been identified.
His son, Gary, said he had always hoped his father would be able to walk his grave and say goodbye.
“It has been so strange for the family,” he said. “No one would ever believe this thing would happen but here it is.”