DNA makes funeral possible 66 years after man was killed in action
by Jim Boyle
About noon on Saturday, June 25, the skies of Dayton and Elk River will be filled with the thunderous noise of F-16 fighter jets flying overhead.
As they reach St. John the Baptist Church in Dayton they will be flying in the missing man formation for 2nd Lt. Harry L. Bedard, who was killed in action on April 3, 1945 when his B-25 aircraft crashed in the Philippines. There will also be a B-25 out of Fleming Field in St. Paul that will fly over St. John the Baptist Church and Cemetery.
There will be a Mass of Christian burial at 10:30 a.m. at the church, 18380 Columbus St. in Dayton. Visitation will be from 9 to 10:15 a.m. Interment at the cemetery will include full military honors, just as it is for all veterans who are killed in action. The main difference is Bedard’s comes 66 years after the fact.
“It’s fantastic,” said Jack VonFeldt of the chance for a proper burial for his uncle.
Larry Bedard, another nephew, said this about the funeral: “We’re returning Harry to his parents.”
DNA has made this possible.
The remains of the fallen soldier were among those of several airmen to be exhumed after 65 years to have their identities confirmed.
Bedard will be buried in a family plot at St. John the Baptist Cemetery alongside his grandparents, his mother and father and several of his children.
The graves have been the site of a family gathering on the Sunday after Memorial Day for decades. The family, with connections to Elk River, Dayton, Rogers and points elsewhere follows it up with a picnic. Last year it was at Babcock Park. Next year’s gathering will no doubt be different — perhaps better.
“He crashed the day after my dad’s birthday,” Larry Bedard said.
The airman was born on Oct. 3, 1922 in Greenbush Township, eight miles west of Princeton. He graduated from DeLaSalle High School in 1939.
He was the ninth of the 11 children born to John and Clara Louise (Trombley) Bedard. All of his siblings and their spouses, except one, are deceased.
Lt. Bedard was part of the 100th Bomb Squadron, 42nd Bomb Group, of the 13th Air Force (also known as the “Jungle Air Force”). He was a navigator/bombardier and one of six crew members on a B-25J.
The mission that day was to provide ground support for an Army assault against Cebu City, in the Philippines. At an altitude of 1,000 feet, the aircraft entered a steep bank power stall and crashed into the swampy woodlands. It was Lt. Bedard’s 31st combat mission.
Philippine fighters, who reached the site immediately after the crash, recovered one of the bodies. The unidentifiable remains of the other five crewmen were not recovered until two years later.
They were buried in a common grave in the USAF Cemetery in Leyte. Four years later, in 1951, during a second search of the crash site, additional remains were discovered. In 1953, the combined remains of the five unidentified crew members were buried at a single grave at the Jefferson Barrack National Cemetery in St. Louis, Mo.
That wasn’t enough for Mary “Mickey” Beard, who began looking into the possibility of identifying the remains of her brother, Sgt. George “Rip” Winkler.
“Her single-minded persistence over a 50-year period led to the exhumation of the crew members of the B-25J,” VonFeldt said.
It was in 2008 that the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) agreed to exhume the bodies for DNA analysis in an attempt to determine the individual identities.
A maternal nephew, Fran VonFeldt, provided mitochondrial DNA that helped bring about conclusive identification of Lt. Bedard. In December of last year, all crew members that had been buried in Jefferson Barrack Cemetery had been positively identified.
There’s closure for the family with this news, but family members say they still feel for their family members who have died.
Larry Bedard remembers his mother getting word at a wedding that Lt. Bedard, her brother, was missing. Even after the remains of the crew members were found and they were simple presumed dead, that was of little solace to family members. Larry Bedard can remember stories of his grandmother going to the train station (Milwaukee Road in Minneapolis) on the chance she would see him come off a train.
Family members over the years have nosed around, including his brother, Jerry Bedard, who found information in an Identification of Deceased Person File he found on the internet.
A story on the plane crash itself was also unearthed.
But it is Beard who got heaven and earth to be moved so the remains could be exhumed.
“This wouldn’t be happening without her intervention,” Jack VonFeldt said. “All five families are grateful for what she did.”
There will be an arrival ceremony at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport before the remains are brought to Dare’s Funeral Home in Elk River. Lt. Jon Virnig, a son-in-law of Jack VonFeldt, will have provided a 48-star flag that Lt. Bedard’s mother, Clara Louise (Trombley) Bedard, requested in 1949.
Lt. Bedard was always considered a hero in the family, but after Saturday, June 25, there will be a funeral service befitting of such a man to remember him by.