By Tom Philpott: PNT columnist
Julia Carvutto, a 90-year-old retired school teacher in Norwalk, Conn., received a phone call from a friend 16 months ago asking if a soldier mentioned in the local newspaper that morning was Julia’s brother, Mart.
“What are you talking about,” Carvutto recalled asking her.
“She said, ‘They found his remains.’ And that’s how I heard. … I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it.”
Her son, William Wilcox, lives two houses away and saw the same article about Uncle Mart. The government sought surviving family members of Army Air Corps Staff Sgt. Martin Troy of Norwalk who was lost 63 years earlier when his World War II bomber went down somewhere over Europe.
“We had no idea that a search was even going on,” said Wilcox.
Over the next year, DNA samples from Carvutto and her son verified that bone fragments taken from a lakeside swamp near the village of Nemesvita in Hungary were remains of her brother.
On Nov. 20, Carvutto, only survivor of seven children, will travel with her son and other family members to Washington D.C. to see Mart buried, finally, with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
There to meet them will be Joseph “Jerry” Conlon, 83, of Roaring Spring, Pa., a survivor of the June 30, 1944, mission that took the lives of Mart Troy and 16 fellow airmen. All four of their B-24 bombers, flying together, were shot down by a swarm of 35 German Messerschmitt fighters.
Conlon, aware for decades that only one crewman on the four planes was never found, made three trips to Hungary since 2003 to help account for Martin Troy. He was there, beside Lake Balaton, when an excavation team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) out of Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii, began recovering bone fragments. Later he visited Norwalk to tell Julia Carvutto how her brother Martin died and was found.
The lost airman was 30, married and working for Connecticut Light and Power Co. when he was drafted after Pearl Harbor, Julia recalled. Three older brothers, who already had children, were not called to war.
“Mart would never complain,” she said.
When color-blindness blocked flight training, he went to gunnery school to learn to fire the .50 caliber waist gun on a B-24. Julia said her brother was too “sweet and kind” to even imagine him firing on someone.
His B-24H Liberator was part of the 460th Bombardment Group based in Spinazzola, Italy. Its final mission was to bomb an oil refinery east of Berlin. Conlon, a second lieutenant bombardier, was in another aircraft.
When the weather got bad, most of the bombers and the fighter escorts turned back. Four ignored that recall order. When the clouds parted over Hungary, the German fighters attacked. Of 41 crewmen on the four planes, 17 died. The others, including Conlon, parachuted to safety only to be taken prisoner.
After Mart deployed in 1942, he could share little with his family about where he was or what he was doing. Julia didn’t even know if he was in Europe. Conlon filled in a lot of information though he didn’t know Mart well.
Julia does recall at age 26 standing in her parents’ yard, part of a compound of houses her grandmother owned, and seeing two soldiers coming up the walk to Mart and Grace’s home. Julia never has forgotten that sad image. They brought news that her brother’s plane had been lost.
With no remains, there was no funeral. The family simply waited for word until they each realized on their own that no word would ever come. More than 74,000 service members of World War II are still listed as missing, not counting thousands lost in the deepest reaches of the ocean.
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: email@example.com