MARIETTA, Ga. -- During World War II, 23-year-old 2nd Lt. William B. Cox, a B24 Liberator pilot from Cobb County, Georgia, assigned to the 403rd Bombardment Squadron, United States Army Air Corps, left Georgia to deploy to the Pacific Theater. He would not return home for 75 years.
Today, the Georgia Army National Guard's Military Funeral Honors team returned the native Georgian home during a solemn internment ceremony with full military honors at the Marietta National Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia.
"What a blessing, no country can pay tribute enough to our veterans, the people we put in harm's way," said Richard Barrett, Cox's surviving cousin. "But it's fantastic, all of the hard work to return him [to Marietta] with his family."
On Aug. 31, 1943, Cox's aircraft crashed into a hillside shortly after takeoff from an airfield at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Mountainous jungle terrain and the condition of the remains made recovery impossible. Cox was buried at the crash site along with 12 other crew and passengers. In June 1945, a second search and recovery team traveled to the grave site and discovered additional remains and personal effects of the crew.
The remains were interred in Australia, then transferred to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri, on Sept. 8, 1949. Due to the condition of the remains, individual identification was not possible and they were interred as a group.
Cox remained interred with his flight crew until DNA testing positively identified him. After identification, the Army returned his remains home for a proper ceremony.
Honoring Cox's sacrifice and dedication to duty is the responsibility of the Georgia Army National Guard's Ellenwood-based Military Funeral Team.
"Our job is to render professional and dignified military funeral honors following service tradition," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael S. Deeds, Military Funeral Honors noncommissioned officer in charge. "All veterans have the opportunity to receive the honors they deserve."
The Georgia National Guard's Military Funeral Honors have conducted over 4,000 funeral and honor guard missions in the last 24 months and supports approved military funeral requests for all of the Army's components, whether Active, Reserve or National Guard.
It also performs all funerals for active-duty personnel from Fort Benning, Fort Stewart and Fort Gordon. The Military Funeral Honors also conducted funeral support for Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem before those installations closed.
"Military Funeral Honors are a part our Army culture to honor, with dignity and respect, those who have served and sacrificed to protect the freedoms we enjoy in this great country," said Georgia Army Guard Commander, Brig. Gen. Randall V. Simmons. "We are very proud of our Georgia Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors team and honored they can participate in these ceremonies."
Georgia's Military Funeral Honors is often the closest many civilians get to military personnel. The unit is keenly aware of its responsibility to be the standard bearer for professional appearance and conduct.
"Our Soldiers view this as a sacred duty, not a job, and the Army Values are evident on and off duty," said Deeds. "Our Soldiers are typically among the best in their units."
Thirty Georgia National Guardsmen from across the state comprise the Military Funeral Honors at the unit's three locations in Ellenwood, Canton and Macon. They also perform approximately 200 funeral missions a month, as well as Honor Guard ceremonies for numerous functions representing the U.S. Army from national level events to local community engagements.
"We are the last thing the family sees," said Staff Sgt. Maynard Parrish, Military Funeral Honors member. "To me, that is the greatest honor we can do for that family."
The effort to recover, identify and honor the remains of our fallen fulfills our nation's promise to always to bring our service members home. The amount of dedication over 75 years and thousands of miles to bring William Cox home from the other side of the world reflects our nation's commitment to ensuring no one is left behind; no one is forgotten.
"With the continued advancements in identifying our fallen heroes from past wars, the Military Funeral Honors we provide will finally give closure to the families," said Simmons.