WWII plane wreckage discovery could bring back remains of missing Minnesotan

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The recent discovery of a World War II plane on the ocean floor is expected to lead to the recovery and identification of the remains of up to eleven crew members, including a Minnesotan, who have been missing for 74 years.

During World War II, 26-year-old John W. Emmer Jr. of Minneapolis was among 11 U.S. servicemen on board a B-24 bomber shot down by enemy fire.

“He was the war hero in the family that nobody talked about it,” said Jim Emmer, John Emmer’s nephew.

Jim Emmer was born three years after the tail gunner’s aircraft plunged into the Pacific Ocean.  

“I think that it was really hard for my grandfather, having a son named after him and losing him,” said Jim Emmer. “I don’t think he really recovered from it, he carried it with him for the rest of his life.”

But now more than 70 years after the crew of “Heaven Can Wait” went missing— Emmer’s family may finally have closure.

Last fall, a team with Project Recover plunged into the depths of the sea and discovered the wreckage and remains of crew members in the water near Papua New Guinea.

“It’s exciting,” said Jim Emmer. “It’s like I’ve gotten to know him spiritually anyway, so that’s a great connection.”

In a video, Eric Terrill with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, paid homage to the fallen servicemen.

“It’s very gratifying that we can take training and education that we’ve got from other disciplines and some small way contribute to closures for these families,” said Terrill.

Nearly 72,000 soldiers from World War II are still missing in action. Jim Emmer is hopeful that his uncle John is one of them that may finally come home.

“Happy Memorial Day,” said Emmer. “It’s a good one for the Emmer family, I’ll tell you that.”

Emmer says that his uncle was a photographer who graduated from DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis.

Project Recover, which was formalized two years ago, says that it will continue to seek to bring closure to families who lost loved ones in the war.