Growing up, David Bass knew his uncle Alfred Fred Turgeon only from the photo on his grandmothers ’dresser.
The 23-year-old plane from Cordova was lost when its plane crashed in 1943 over Romania.
Turgeon was one of five Alaskans whose remains were not found after World War II. But a few weeks ago, Bass received a call from the POW Department of Defense / MIA Accounting Agency saying that after 78 years, the remains of his uncles had been identified and would be returned to the family.
It was a really emotional moment for all of us, Bass said on the phone Monday from his home in Indianapolis.
Alaska-born Bass volunteered a DNA sample a few years ago at the POW / MIA Accounting Agency. The agency began exhuming the remains in 2017 in a Belgian cemetery, where 80 American soldiers were believed to have been buried. The remains of Turgeon and others were sent to the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for identification.
The scientists used DNA provided by Bass, his cousin and his aunt Joan Cutler, the Turgeons sister, to make the identification, Bass said.
Ever since he got involved in the identification process, Bass said, he learned a lot about his uncle and even connected with other families who lost loved ones on the same plane in which Turgeon was.
When Turgeon was a child, his family moved several times because his stepfather was a Coast Guard officer. Turgeon grew up and attended school in Cordova and considered himself Alaskan, according to Bass.
The family moved to Boston shortly before World War II, and Turgeon enlisted in the Army Air Corps there at the age of 21. His family moved back to Ketchikan shortly before Turgeon left for training, and Bass said Turgeon never actually lived in Ketchikan even though he was listed as his official home address.
Turgeon, a technical sergeant, was stationed with 98 Bomb Group, 344th Bomb Squadron in North Africa in 1942. The group joined other B-24 squadrons on August 1, 1943, in Operation Wave Tidal, a daytime bombing raid on Nazi oil. refinery in Ploiesti, Romania.
More than 300 aviators were believed to have died in the operation and another 100 were captured, according to National Museum of World War II. Turgeon was working as a waist ball and a radio operator when his plane was hit by flames and exploded in flames. Of the crew of 10, only the captain survived, captured prisoner of war.
For decades, Turgeons mother and sisters hoped he would return because his body had not been identified, Bass said.
They always expressed hope that maybe he was in a prisoner of war camp or that he had amnesia and did not know who he was and was alive in Europe – the same I am not sure that maybe every mother who lost someone in World War II was hoping, he said.
It’s a blessing that one of the Turgeons sisters is still alive to see his identified bones, Bass said. Joan Cutler was only 7 years old when Turgeon went to war.
Bass said he and his cousins were proud to learn his story.
It’s a great closure for us as a family, Bass said. I wish my mother was still alive so she could see him.
A funeral for the Turgeon with full military honors is scheduled to fall in Shoreline, Washington and Bass said he will be buried next to his older sister, Lorraine Bass.