NY National Guard provides funeral honors Saturday for MIA WWII bomber pilot

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1st Lt. John B. Thomas of Rochester, N.Y., will be laid to rest at Rose Cemetery in Rose, N.Y., Saturday, May 20, 2023, nearly 80 years after he went Missing in Action and presumed dead.

ROSE, N.Y. (05/19/2023) (readMedia)-- A New York Army National Guard Honor Guard will render full funeral honors to World War II veteran 1st Lt. John B. Thomas of Rochester, N.Y., as he is laid to rest at Rose Cemetery in Rose, N.Y., Saturday, May 20.

Thomas had been listed as Missing in Action and presumed dead for 80 years.

News media are invited to the military honors, which will include an Army National Guard flyover at the funeral service with a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter assigned to the Rochester Army Aviation Flight Facility.

WHO: Members of the New York Military Forces Honor Guard join the family of 1st Lt. John Thomas.

WHAT: Final military honors for the funeral service of WWII Army Air Corps 1st Lt. John Thomas. Thomas' remains return nearly 80 years after the August 1943 raid at Ploesti, Romania, in which he was killed.

WHEN: Funeral service at 11 a.m., Saturday, May 20, 2023 at Farnsworth-Keysor Funeral Home, 5025 South Main St., North Rose, New York, 14516. Burial service to immediately follow at Rose Cemetery at approximately noon to 12:30 p.m.

WHERE: Burial with full military honors at Rose Cemetery, 4400 State Route 414 Rose, New York, 14542.

Media Opportunity:

Imagery of full military honors for the burial of WWII missing aviator 1st Lt. John B. Thomas, including the firing of honors, playing of Taps, the helicopter flyover and the presentation of the folded American flag to the family.


Army Air Forces 1st Lt. John B. Thomas

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced April 20, 2023 that U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. John B. Thomas, 23, of Rochester, New York, killed during World War II, was accounted for Sept. 30, 2022.

Thomas was one of twin sons to Mr. and Mrs. Herbert B. Thomas, living on East Avenue in Rochester. He also had a second brother, William Thomas, and two half sisters.

He joined the Army Air Forces while a junior at Cornell University in 1940. His twin, George F. Thomas, served in the Pacific Theater as a U.S. Marine.

In the summer of 1943, Thomas was assigned to the 345th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 9th U.S. Air Force.

On Aug. 1, Thomas was piloting a B-24 Liberator bomber during Operation TIDAL WAVE, the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries at Ploiesti, north of Bucharest, Romania.

The raid was a strategic bombing mission to deny petroleum-based fuel to the Axis powers. The Ploesti oil refineries provided an estimated 30% of all Axis oil production.

One hundred and seventy-seven B-24 Liberators took off from air bases in Libya for the raid. Thomas was the pilot of a Liberator (serial number 42-40312, nicknamed "Aire Lobo") and was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed. Aire Lobo was one of fifty-one planes that failed to return.

This raid was one of the costliest for the Army Air Forces in Europe, with 660 aircrew lost. Only 88 B-24s returned to Libya, 55 with battle damage.

Presumed dead following the mission, Thomas received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in the Ploesti raid.

There were five Medals of Honor (three posthumously) and 56 other Distinguished Service Crosses were also awarded to crew members for actions during the raid.

His remains were not identified following the war. The remains that could not be identified were buried as Unknowns in the Hero Section of the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan, Ploiesti, Prahova, Romania.

Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command, the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, disinterred all American remains from the Bolovan Cemetery for identification.

The AGRC was unable to identify more than 80 unknowns from Bolovan Cemetery, and those remains were permanently interred at Ardennes American Cemetery and Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, both in Belgium.

In 2017, DPAA began exhuming unknowns believed to be associated with unaccounted-for airmen from Operation TIDAL WAVE losses. These remains were sent to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for examination and identification.

To identify Thomas' remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome DNA (Y-STR) analysis.

Thomas' name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Impruneta, Italy, along with others still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.