Remains of fallen World War II lieutenant from Brooklyn make journey home 75-plus years later

OAKLAND, New Jersey (WABC) — The family of a World War II lieutenant killed in action is finally getting some closure after the soldier’s remains were identified more than 75 years later.

Lt. John Heffernan Jr., straight out of Bedford Stuyvesant, cut a sharp and striking figure in his uniform.

As a World War II navigator on a B-25 bomber, he had the medals to prove his valor and bravery, with more than 50 missions flown in the thick of World War II.

Andrew McVeigh is Heffernan’s nephew. He grew up hearing stories about his uncle, a St. John’s graduate who was earning money to pay for medical school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Within days, Heffernan joined the military and became a navigator stationed in India.

“The plane was at low level, got hit by aircraft fire, crashed, blew up, everybody was evidently killed in the wreck,” McVeigh said.

Heffernan’s body was never found. His mother wrote impassioned letters pleading for them to keep looking after the war.

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Despite repeated efforts, the bodies of the seven men who died that day were never found.

Time went by … 78 years went by, but the military never stopped looking.

In February, the military called McVeigh to tell him some remains of his uncle had been found in Burma near the crash site.

His lieutenant’s bars were there also, along with some bone fragments that were matched with his family’s DNA.

On Tuesday, Heffernan will take one final flight home.

After all these years, there is no one left in Heffernan’s immediate family, his mother and his five siblings all died in the 78 years since he was shot down in Burma.

But he was never forgotten, not ever by his family and not ever by the United States military, which will bring him home on Tuesday to be buried next to his mother.


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