MANNINGTON, W. Va. — The remains of a World War II soldier who was killed 69 years ago when his plane went down in Germany have been returned to his home in West Virginia, where he was laid to rest between the parents who never gave up hope that their son would come home.
Sgt. Jerome E. Kiger was 22 years old when his plane went down July 21, 1944. He was buried Sunday in Mannington, W. Va., where dozens of flag-waving well-wishers lined the streets to pay tribute to the fallen soldier returned home.
Kiger's remains were discovered in 2008 by a German man named Markus Mooser, who was walking in a forest and saw a depression in the land that looked like a crash site. It was about 1,000 yards from where officials thought the B-24 Liberator had gone down all those years earlier.
Mooser was present Sunday alongside family members -- most of whom had never met Kiger -- friends and other veterans for the memorial service.
"Jerome took me here from Germany," Mooser said during remarks made at the graveside. "It's a long way, and it's for me an honor. I'm really proud to be here at his funeral, to stay with his family, and I'm very thankful to be invited."
When Kiger's plane went down in 1944, nine airmen were aboard, said Sgt. 1st Class John Oliverio, a casualty assistance officer with the 201st Battalion Field Artillery in Fairmont, W. Va., who has helped the family through the ordeal.
"Sgt. Kiger was the tail gunner and Sgt. (Charles) Marshall was the belly gunner," he added. "The plane got hit and as it was going down, the pilot yelled for everyone to bail out."
But accounts from family indicate Kiger wanted to stay to help his friend, Marshall.
"Something caused him to stay with the plane and he refused to jump. That's from the sister telling me, not the official report," Oliverio said.
Seven of the men jumped; one died when his parachute failed and the other six were taken as prisoners of war, Oliverio said.
After a year, the Army declared Kiger dead.
When Mooser found the crash site in 2008, he researched the plane's identifying marks and determined it was likely the plane that carried Kiger and Marshall. The U.S. military excavated the site and found human remains, and DNA tests confirmed the soldiers’ identities, Oliverio said.
Marshall, of Martin, Ky., was laid to rest earlier this month.
On Sunday, Oliverio said he was impressed by the turnout on the flag-peppered procession route.
"You know what's neat is that it's not just old people, but the young people," Oliverio said as he gestured to a woman and a boy standing and saluting. "They could be inside playing video games. But they are choosing to stand out here and hold flags."