It had been 58 years since Elmer DeLucia’s
last moment alone with his brother, and he did not want this one to
go by too quickly.
When everyone else drifted away Saturday from the grave site of Staff Sgt. Anthony “Bib” DeLucia, Elmer DeLucia stood silent and motionless, watching as his brother’s remains were lowered into the ground. Elmer DeLucia had never expected to see his brother again, or even his casket.
On Aug. 31, 1944, “Bib” DeLucia was one of 10 Army Air Corps airmen killed when their B-24 crashed after bombing Japanese ships in the former Formosa, now Taiwan, in World War II. After years of not knowing what had happened, Elmer DeLucia decided his brother’s remains were lost for good.
But in 1996, Chinese farmers found wreckage of the plane while searching for herbs on 7,000-foot Kitten Mountain in Guangxi province. The Department of Defense has spent the time since identifying each of the dead and returning the men’s remains to their families.
Six of the other nine airmen will be buried Aug. 21 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., and families of the three others are burying them privately.
To keep a promise made to his mother before she died in 1968, Elmer DeLucia laid his brother to rest Saturday at the family’s hillside plot in a cemetery near the church where the DeLucia boys were baptized.
The Army, keeping a promise of its own to remember those who served, saw to it that DeLucia was buried with full honors. They included the presentation of a Purple Heart and an American flag to Elmer DeLucia and another surviving brother, Auggie DeLucia, both of whom received Purple Hearts of their own in World War II.
About 600 people in the DeLucia’s hometown of Bradford, about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, turned out to remember DeLucia as a hearse carried his casket past factories and shops to his family’s church in the center of the town, known for producing Zippo lighters and oil.
Twenty-five servicemen, some young and others long retired, lined up at the end of the procession to salute.
Among those saluting was Stanley Black, 66-year-old Air Force veteran who flew in Vietnam. He said the funeral reminded him of friends killed in combat.
“They were all like Bib,” he said. “They were all doing what they had to do.”
A sign outside a hotel read “Welcome Home Bib DeLucia — War Hero.”
Elmer DeLucia said his older brother earned the “Bib” nickname as a baby, but no one remembers how. The last time Elmer DeLucia saw his brother was in 1942, when he pulled him aside before he left to go overseas.
Elmer DeLucia said his older brother, who was ending a furlough for a broken leg, gave him a watch to remember him by, and then a few final words.
“Bib said, ‘I know you don’t graduate for another year, but I don’t know when I’ll see you again,’” Elmer DeLucia said. The words were the last ones the brothers shared.