WWII airman finally laid to rest.
By Herb Meeker - The Mattoon Journal-Gazette via Associated Press
Posted : Friday May 14, 2010 11:53:21 EDT
MATTOON, Ill. — David Champion knew he couldn't miss Mike Elliott's funeral.
Like Elliott, who was born Edwin C., Champion also flew in a B-25 bomber more than 60 years ago in World War II. Champion returned home to Coles County after the war with plenty of memories from the wild blue yonder, but it took 66 years for Elliott's bittersweet return from Europe this week.
At age 24, Elliott died with four others when a B-25 crashed on a mountain on Corsica during a non-combat mission. He and others killed in the May 10, 1944, crash have been identified through DNA testing through the efforts of the Missing In Action Accounting Command, which conducts retrieval of military remains across the globe each year.
"As soon as I heard about them bringing back his remains I knew I was going to be here," said Champion as he greeted people at the door of Mitchell-Jerdan Funeral Home before Elliott's funeral. "I grew up here, but I didn't know the man."
Outside the funeral home, Glenn Poorman of Humboldt was confident the skies would remain clear for the procession to the Rest Haven gravesite with other Patriot Guard motorcyclists.
"We have a good turnout today for a weekday. We're going to be there for these veterans whether it's been 66 years or 40 years when they come home. These serve as closure for the families. It's really an honor and a privilege to be here today," said Poorman.
Glenn Elliott, Mike's lone surviving sibling, was glad to see so many people out to honor the brother he barely knew. He was in grade school when the telegram came informing his parents of Mike's death.
"I don't actually remember talking to Mike when he was home on leave before he went overseas," the silver-haired kid brother said Tuesday morning.
Elwin "Mike" C. Elliott came to Mattoon at age 8 with his family from Kentucky, where he was born. The Elliott family lived on North Fourth Street in Mattoon and Mike went to school with his brothers and sisters. Records show he was of slight build, weighing 128 pounds.
With America's entry into the war, Elliott enlisted at Camp Grant and went into the Army Air Corps before his assignment to the Mediterranean. That fatal flight claim his life and the lives of First Lt. Ray F. Fletcher, Capt. Lewis J. Gerrings, Pvt. Richard H. Loring and Red Cross nurse Carolyn Chapin. Military data indicates the bomber was on a mail run and Chapin was en route to assignment for the Red Cross.
Champion said the risk of a crash was always there for aviators, but they tried to block it out.
"When you were on a flight you didn't think about it," he recalled. "It was just a job to do. Whatever happened, happened."
Selena Griffith and Jewel Gilbert, both of Mattoon, are Mike Elliott's nieces. They agreed to DNA-related blood draws to confirm some of the remains recovered from the mountaintop in Corsica were those of Elliott. For Griffith there was irony to the return of the remains to a military personnel identification center in Hawaii five years ago.
"I learned that Dave (her husband) and I had been to Hawaii the same time his remains came back. Then around Thanksgiving of 2005 we had a call asking if I'd agree to DNA tests," Griffith said.
Army Sgt. Jarrod Taylor, Elliott's great-nephew, accompanied the body on the flight to Illinois. Taylor experienced a strange coincidence during the flight.
"I met a woman who had been on a flight carrying a World War II veteran's remains to Boston for a funeral. I found out it was Pvt. Loring's funeral," Taylor said.
At Rest Haven, there were many veterans, including Mattoon American Legionnaires of Post 88, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4325, Windsor American Legion Post 725 member and Sons of the American Legion and Legionnaires with Post 71 in Urbana.
Dan Schmidt and Gus Robertson of the Urbana detachment thought it was important to honor the man they never met because he's from a generation that was as tough as nails.
"They were millions of brave men and women. If it wasn't for them we'd be speaking German or Russian today," Robertson said.
Off in the distance past the bugler, the soldiers firing the honor volley and the American flags fluttering in the wind, Ray Hoffman of Mattoon, a Vietnam veteran, stood erect as a sentry throughout the ceremony.
"I think all veterans deserve some respect, especially those from the World War II. They did so much. It's still good we recognize them," he said as he tried to control his voice after the ceremony.