Nearly 68 years after a Minot pilot was killed when the B-17G he was flying was shot down and crashed during World War II in Germany, his remains now are resting in his homeland.
Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Harry W. Eck's remains were interred at Fort Snelling National Cemetery at St. Paul, Minn., on Monday.
Eck's remains and the remains of three other crewmembers recently were identified by U.S. officials and returned to their families for burials with full military honors. Of the nine crewmembers in the crash, one survived.
Eloise Ogden/MDN • This photo shows a portion of an April 2, 1960, story with 1st Lt. Harry W. Eck’s photo. The World War II pilot’s remains were identified recently.
Eck, better known by many as Harry Jr., was 23 when he died. He was the son of the late Harry B. Eck and late Hilma Eck. Harry B. Eck, a longtime Minot businessman and civic leader, was founder of Motor Service Co. in Minot, which he established in the 1920s.
Harry Jr.'s mother died in 1968, his father in 1990 and his stepmother, Gertrude "Tillie" in 2003. His only sibling, Lois Jeanne, died in 1934 when she was 4 1/2.
Harry B. Eck's only relatives living in the local area are Roger Rylander, a great-nephew in Minot; and his children, Dianna Rylander, Mark and Dean Rylander, all of Minot, Robert Rylander, of Kenmare, and Julie Kimberly, of North Bend, Ore.
Dianna Rylander said Harry and Tillie were "like my grandparents" and she remembers hearing stories about Harry Jr. She also remembers at one time meeting Harry Jr.'s best friend.
After the 1944 crash, Eck's father did not receive word from the War Department for nearly four months that his son was shot down over Germany and his plane crashed, according to the Jan. 2, 1945, edition of The Minot Daily News.
The recent information from the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, D.C., reports:
On Sept. 13, 1944, Eck and eight other crew members were on a B-17G Flying Fortress that crashed near Neustaedt-on-the-Werra in Germany. One of the crewmen is known to have successfully parachuted out of the aircraft before the plane crashed. The remaining eight were buried by German forces in a cemetery in Neustaedt.
After the war, U.S. Army Graves Registration personnel attempted to recover the remains of the eight men, but were only able to move the remains of one man to a U.S. military cemetery in Holland. In 1953, with access to eastern Germany restricted by the Soviet Union, the remains of the seven unaccounted for crewmen were declared non-recoverable.
In 1991, a German national who was digging a grave in the cemetery in Neustaedt, discovered a metal U.S. military identification tag and notified officials. Due to German burial law, the U.S. Joint POW/MIA (JPAC) Accounting Command wasn't granted access to the site until 2007, and excavated the location in 2008. The team recovered human remains, and additional metal identification tags from three of the crewmembers. Eck's dog tags were not one of the three recovered.
To identify Eck's remains, scientists from JPAC used forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory at Dover Air Force Base, Del., also used mitochondrial DNA in the identification of his remains.
Maj. Carie Parker, public information officer for DPMO, told The Minot Daily News that mitochondrial DNA from Lt. Eck's maternal line cousin was used that matched Eck's. She said there were dental remains as well.
The three other crewmembers whose remains were identified with Eck were: 2nd Lt. Emil Wasilewski, of Chicago, Staff Sgt. John Bono, of Denver; and Staff Sgt. John E. Hogan, of West Plains, Mo. Wasilewski was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on June 26, Bono was buried in Denver on Dec. 2, 2011, and Hogan was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 24.
Other members of the crew were 2nd Lts. Clyde Wren, and John Sauer, Staff Sgt. Clifford Keeney, and Sgts. Thomas Deitman and George Clark. Clark was the only survivor of the crash.
According to The Minot Daily News files:
Lt. Eck was born May 29, 1921, in Minot, and graduated from Minot High School with the class of 1939. He was a student at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, for three years, where he belonged to Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
Before going into the Army Air Forces, he was employed by a glider school in Oklahoma.
Eck entered service in early 1943, took his primary flying training at Tulare, Calif., and received basic training at Marana, Ariz. In December 1943, he received his pilot's wings at the Yuma, Ariz., air field, and then visited in Minot with his father before leaving to report to Hobbs, N.M., where he completed a four-engine pilot transition course and qualified as a Flying Fortress commander. He completed the final stages of his training at Dyersburg, Tenn.
He went overseas in July 1944, to serve with the Eighth Air Force.
Eck was promoted to first lieutenant only a short time before his death. He had completed 20 or more bombing missions before the fatal mission.
Lt. Eck's parents knew few details about their son's last mission until his mother received a letter from a member of her son's bomber crew, who was taken prisoner by the Germans after he bailed out.
Sgt. George F. Clark, of Santaquin, Utah, wrote, in part: "You already know we had an engine knocked out over the target and had to leave formation. Soon after that we were hit by fighters and had our ship shot up so badly that Lieutenant Eck was going to make a crash landing. Before he had time an engine caught on fire and he gave us an order to bail out.
"I was the first one out and I never did see any of my crew members again. I asked the Germans if any more had got out of the ship and they said they knew of three others who had, but the latter had been killed by civilians. They said they knew nothing about others of the crew.
"Your son Harry must have gone down with the ship because he would not leave his plane until all of his crew were out," Sgt. Clark wrote. "I lost the best friends I ever had that day and I shall never forget Harry he was the best of pilots and we all thought the world of him."
Parker said the bomber was en route to join six other bombers in the vicinity of Altenburg, Germany.
Eck posthumously received the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster and Purple Heart. A memorial service was held in May 1946 at First Lutheran Church in Minot for Lt. Eck and two other local young men, all members of the Army Air Forces, who gave their lives in the war.
Some land near Minot Air Force Base that Harry B. and Tillie Eck owned in Tatman Township, Ward County, was bought for right of way by the Great Northern Railway in 1957, according to Ward County Recorder's Office records. The railroad used those tracks to haul freight to the base.
Lt. Eck's name was submitted at least twice in 1956 and again in 1960 for renaming Minot Air Force Base in his honor. Other names also were recommended for renaming the base. Minot AFB remains as the military installation's name.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died, according to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office. At the end of the war, the U.S. government was unable to recover and identify about 79,000 Americans. Today, more than 73,000 are unaccounted for from the conflict.
A Veterans Administration marker for Lt. Eck is located in the Eck family plot in Rosehill Memorial Park in Minot.