‘He has not been forgotten’: Evansville welcomes home lost airman nearly 70 years after his death

EVANSVILLE, Wis. – Time seems to move more slowly when waiting.

United States Airman 2nd Class Edward J. Miller’s family has been waiting a long time.

“The family has been waiting over 60 years to recover his body,” Evansville Mayor Bill Hurtley said.

When what you’re waiting for never comes, time can nearly stand still.

“It’s just as fresh today as it was then for them, I think,” Evansville Police Chief Patrick Reese said.

In 1952, Miller died along with more than 50 others when their plane crashed in Alaska. At the time, the site of the crash was unknown and their bodies went unfound.

Since 2012, the Colony Glacier Recovery Team has been recovering the remains of crewmembers, nearly finding them all, according to a release from the Rock County Sheriff’s Office. Miller’s remains were recently identified.

“Since 1952, the family has not had closure,” Reese said. “Today we’re bringing him back.”

On Friday, a motorcade including law enforcement and military personnel escorted family members to Milwaukee to receive Miller’s remains, before bringing them back to Evansville.

“I’m excited about the fact there is this turnout,” said John Willoughby, a longtime Evansville resident.

Willoughby knew of Miller’s family, but Miller was older than him in school. But he didn’t need to know Miller to show his support.

“One of ours gave everything for his country, and that just means a lot,” he said.

According to Reese and Hurtley, Miller was survived by three sisters. One recently passed after learning Miller’s remains had been found, but the other two came to Wisconsin for the motorcade and burial service.

“I’ve done military services, but nothing like this,” said Hurtley, who is also with Ward-Hurtley Funeral Home. “Small town USA: they come out to help everyone all the time for all kinds of reasons. This is just something else that’s a little more special than normal.”

“Evansville has got deep connections to history,” said Jason Sergeant, the city administrator. “It’s really nice to find out we have more connections with history than we all may have thought even a couple days ago.”

That history was taken into account when planning Miller’s final trip.

“They’re bringing him the direction he’s familiar with,” Reese said, adding that the motorcade route was chosen with roads that would have been known to Miller in mind.

Reese said he would expect nothing less of his community than this type of greeting.

“It means a lot for the community to bring someone home and to a family who never thought they would have closure,” he said. “It’s very moving.”

It’s movement toward a moment that for years seemed unreachable.

“It’s worth it, and it’s worth it for the family,” Hurtley said. There’s no way you can put this whole thing into words.”

Where we can’t find words, we can find a welcome, well worth the wait.

“It’s important we don’t forget people like Airman Miller,” Reese said. “He has not been forgotten.”