SALT LAKE CITY — On Thursday morning, a Salt Lake woman will finally be able to lay to rest her father, a bomber pilot who went missing in action during World War II.
"I didn't think that after 74 years he would come back," Mary Ann Hadfield Turner said Tuesday, after her dad's remains returned to Utah from the German field where they lay lost until the wreckage was discovered in 2016. "It fills an emptiness that I felt for I don't know how long, and it gives me peace that I haven't known my whole life."
On March 21, 1945, Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Lynn W. Hadfield, 26, of Salt Lake City, was piloting a bomber from France to Germany in WWII when it was hit by enemy fire and crashed.
"It's an indescribable emptiness — it's haunting in a way," Turner said of her father's disappearance.
His remains were identified on Dec. 13, 2018, from a crash site in Germany that was discovered in 2016. Efforts to excavate the site and identify any remains were led by the group History Flight, and several volunteers have traveled to Utah for today's service.
Hadfield will be buried with full military honors and a military aircraft flyover at Utah Veterans Memorial Park in Bluffdale, exactly 74 years after his disappearance.
Mary Ann Turner is Hadfield's only living child — Turner's brother, Kent Hadfield, died in the 1990s. The family was unsure if any of Hadfield's 15 siblings were still alive.
Close to 150 family members were expected to attend the funeral services.
Turner was only a toddler when her father left for war and was still very young when he went missing. The only memories the family have of him come from stories of those who knew him.
"I don't remember him, but I see pictures of him holding me and that is so nice," she said.
Hadfield's grandson and Mary Anne Turner's son, Chris Turner, said he wished he could have met his grandfather.
"I'm getting to know him now through this journey,” he said. "He was slow to anger but quick to laugh, he was fun to be around, well-liked … very smart."
He described the experience as "exciting and bittersweet" for the family.
In addition to the remains of the three men onboard the bomber when it crashed, some of the airmen's personal effects were also located.
She now has her father's pilot wings from his uniform, his dog tags and a pen cap with a piece of his uniform under the clip.
"We're very proud of his service, we're proud of … his willingness to sacrifice," Chris Turner said.
According to a news release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, it was the combined efforts of the agency, History Flight and German researcher Adolf Hagedorn that led to the discovery and identification of Hadfield's aircraft and remains.
Chris Turner said the organizations truly take "no man left behind or no woman left behind" to heart.
Hagedorn discovered the crash site on a farm in 2016.
"I think it's indescribably beautiful that a German man would do this for an enemy aircraft — it is just so beautiful, I just don't have words," Mary Ann Turner said.
Chris Turner said tens of thousands of working hours were poured into this recovery project and both he and his mother are deeply grateful for everyone involved in bringing his grandfather home.
"It's absolutely awe-inspiring," he said. "We had so many people in this world that worked together and applied their expertise and skills and abilities to bring somebody home they didn't know."
Five members of the History Flight team that helped recover Hadfield's body will attend the funeral Thursday, including a geologist, two anthropologists and two historians. The nonprofit has recovered at least 110 individuals from the Pacific region and seven service members in Europe, with plans for more European recovery missions.
Jean-Louis Seel and Jean-Philippe Speder, WWII historians from Belgium and Belgian army veterans, worked on Hadfield's recovery mission and traveled from Belgium to attend.
Geologist Chuck Thudium and Steve Cassells, archeologist and anthropologist, drove from Colorado to attend the funeral services and meet the family. Both men are volunteers for the nonprofit organization dedicated to recovering missing service members from 20th century American wars. The two men put in a lot of hours for Hadfield's recovery project.
"It was pretty brutal at times, but we got over there and were able to successfully do it," Thudium said. This recovery mission was Thudium's first trip for the organization and he's since been on four more.
Hadfield's funeral is the first either men have been able to attend.
Thudium, retired military himself, said this is his way of giving back. He also lost an older brother in WWII and appreciated the opportunity to give other families closure.
"This brings it full circle," Thudium said. "It means a lot to me to be able to bring closure to families that I was never able to get."
Cassells, an archeologist for almost 50 years, has worked on four recovery missions and two crash site excavations.
"Our primary goal is to recover as much of the personnel who were killed in that incident," he said. "With the ultimate goal of having these people identified and returned."
He said a team of about 15 to 20 people dug every day for about a month and went 10 to 12 feet into the ground. One of the team members had frostbitten toes by the end of the excavation, Cassells said.
"The funeral is the culmination for us that we actually have been able to accomplish what started for us over two years ago with this project," Cassells said. "Just to be a part of this return, a big celebration … of his life, sad as it is, this is I think a great way to commemorate his life."
Even though the dig was difficult at times, the pair said a lot of things fell into place and they learned interesting stories from locals. For instance, an elderly German man said he knew about the plane crash, and when he was a boy he took a piece of scrap metal from the site and sold it to buy an air rifle.
"These are the human interest side that — 'Wow he knows where this is,' and it really worked out well. It was a perfect dig, everybody was a team," Thudium said.
Cassells said he thinks this work is important.
"I've never had such a rewarding exercise in archeology as working with History Flight because we now see some ultimate good coming to the families … providing them with some closure to their loss for all those years," he said. "It's too bad it's taken over 70 years for it to happen, but at least it happened."
"Bring the boys home — that's the whole story, to be able to find, locate, recover and give a little bit of closure to families who are still surviving," he said. "It's just a perfect end for a very, very long journey for Lt. Hadfield."
A final thanks
Mary Ann Turner is planning a trip to Germany this summer with her German-fluent cousin to see the crash site and visit the area where her father was at. She wants to personally thank the farm owners for giving the agency two months to dig at the crash site.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war, according to the accounting agency. There are still 72,747 service members from WWII unaccounted for and about 26,000 are possibly recoverable.
Hadfield’s name, along with others missing from WWII, is on the Tablets of the Missing memorial at the Netherlands American Cemetery — the only American military cemetery in the country. A rosette will be added to his name, indicating he's been accounted for.9 comments on this story
His two crew members, Sgt. Vernon Hamilton, of West Virginia, and Sgt. John Kalausich, of Pennsylvania, also died during the mission and their remains were identified from the crash site as well.
Hadfield was a member of the 642nd Bombardment Squadron, 409th Bombardment Group, 9th Bombardment Division, 9th Air Force, at the time of his death.
“I want him to be remembered as someone who died for his country and as someone who I think I would’ve loved to have met," Chris Turner said.
Seeing her father honored was emotional for Mary Ann Turner.
"It's a tribute to Dad, it really is," she said.