They Found Something Surprising Searching Through The Woods Behind His Childhood House…

People can find all kinds of things when they are digging around in their yards. Some may be searching or relaxing by using a metal detector and finding amazing (or mundane) treasures, others might just be doing some yard work and end up finding something that was left behind be previous owners.

But other times, history is found.

A 5-year-old boy named Manfred Römer witnessed an American plane being shot down in Hamburg, Germany, during World War II. While the fiery wreck of the P-51 D happened in a field near his house on April 13, 1945, it would take 70 years for this eyewitness account to actually help locate the brave man piloting the aircraft.

A military funeral in Louisiana / via The Louisiana National Guard

The Crash

Lt. John W. Herb’s plane went down in a field after crashing into some trees. Two women who witnessed the crash talked to Römer — now retired — about the incident as he searched for clues as to the remains of the soldier. Both women said Herb survived the crash, but someone shot and killed him upon reaching the wreck. The body ended up being thrown into a shallow grave near the crash site.

The Search

Römer searched for an answer to the mystery in 2014. He returned to the crash site and asked around. The two women, aged 85, led to a breakthrough in the story with their testimony. Römer, aided by his sons and grandchildren, scoured the heavily forested area where the plane went down with metal detectors.

The search of the 12-acre site yielded both human remains and more than 200 pieces of metal, including a class ring with the initials “JWH.” Römer contacted American officials, who confirmed Herb’s identity through dental records. The remains were delivered to Arlington National Cemetery for a formal burial in mid-June 2015, where Herb was finally laid to rest with full military honors.

Arlington National Cemetery / via The U.S. Army

The Family

Herb’s parents were devastated by their son’s death. The war in Europe ended a month after Herb’s mission over Hamburg. The young man’s closest living relatives are first cousins, once removed, who had heard stories about their missing relative. It took about a year to positively identify the remains, says Newsnet 5 in Cleveland. Military officials awarded Herb three medals, including a Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross. Relatives felt “Arlington would be a fitting choice” for burial to close the chapter on a 70-year mystery.

The crash burned itself into Römer’s memory as a young boy. Once he found the time, he restored honor in a small way to help heal wounds from a wretched war. The Herb family received closure, but thousands more soldiers from World War II remain unaccounted for…

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