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Welcome Home, Sgt Jerome Kiger

 

The week of July 18-21, 2013 was a most memorable one for me.  It started when I read the following news article:

 

MANNINGTON, W.Va. -- The remains of a West Virginia airman killed in Germany during World War II are coming home for burial.
Jerome Kiger of Mannington was a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber that was shot down July 21, 1944.

The remains of Kiger and another crewman were found in the plane's wreckage in Bavaria in 2008. Kiger's identity was confirmed by DNA testing.
The Dominion Post reports that Kiger will be buried with honors on July 21 at Mannington Memorial Park.
His family is inviting active-duty military personnel and veterans to attend the service.

 

I immediately knew I wanted to attend the ceremony and burial on Sunday 21 July, so I started researching a bit more.

 I found out Sgt Kiger’s casket would be arriving in Pittsburgh Airport on Thursday, 18 July,

 and would be accompanied by the Patriot Guard and State Police.  I contacted the Patriot Guard,

who were very gracious and invited me to ride with them, knowing that I was retired USAF. 

 

I just bought a new motorcycle the week before, and had only ridden it to work and locally.

I was anxious to try it out on the open road.  What better reason than this?!!

 

On Thursday, 18 July, I met up with about a dozen riders in Morgantown. We left at 9am and arrived in

Pittsburgh at a Sheetz gas station, where we met about 50 other riders from around PA. It was quite

a sight!  After filling our tanks with gas, getting a bite to eat, and drinking lots of cold water and

Gatorade (it was 90+ degrees!), we headed over to the airport at noon.  In spite of the fact the plane was delayed,

there were no restrooms, the sun was blazing and we had to wait over an hour, there was not a single complaint.

After a brief private ceremony with the family, Sgt Kiger was ready for the final part of his trip home to WV.

 

 

PART 1 :  Thursday 18 July 2013 – Pittsburgh PA to Mannington WV

 

Today, I had the most meaningful, fulfilling ride of my lifetime. I contacted the WV Patriot Guard, and they invited me

 to ride along with them to escort Sgt Kiger's casket from Pittsburgh airport (where it was arriving at noon today)

back to his hometown of Mannington WV. I knew it was going to be a day full of emotions,

but I never guessed there wasn't going to be a dry eye in my helmet several times during the ride.

This was truly one of those days I will remember forever.


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Sgt Jerome Kiger

 

 



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A group of about 15 riders met in Morgantown WV early this morning and rode up to Pittsburgh, where we met about 40-50 other riders.



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At noon, we headed over to the Pittsburgh Airport, where we waiting for Sgt Kiger's arrival. After a brief private ceremony with the family inside,

the hearse exited the facility to begin Sgt Kiger's final journey home.It was over 90 degrees, there were no restrooms,

 we had to wait over an hour, and not a single person complained.



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The Honor Guard preparing for Sgt Kiger's hearse to exit the building.
Talk about dedication - these guys are in full dress uniforms and gloves, and it is well over 90* + on the pavement.



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With two Pennsylvania State Troopers providing escort to the WV state line,

we did not have to worry much about traffic breaking up the line. Thanks guys!



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The moment I wanted to catch - Sgt Kiger finally returning to West Virginia nearly 69 years after his fateful mission.



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At the WV state line, we were escorted by two Sheriff cars and a Sheriff Can-Am (yes, with lights and siren!).

We exited I-79 at the new downtown Fairmont exit where fire trucks and other emergency vehicles lead the procession

 the final 12 miles to Mannington. It was quite a sight!

It was the next 12 miles that were most emotional, as I watched families with small kids waving flags and saluting and

 holding their hands over their hearts as we passed by. At several small businesses along Rt 250,

 groups of employees stood outside the front door of their shops to pay respects to Sgt Kiger as he passed.

 Oncoming traffic came to a stop and sat parked on the road while the half-mile-long procession passed.

 People apparently stopped what they were doing to witness this moment in history and to pay their respects. Very moving.





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At the funeral home, the Patriot Guard provided a flag line and stood quietly at attention as the casket was taken from the hearse into the funeral home.

You could have heard a pin drop.

Wow - what a ride! It was truly an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to pay respects to Sgt Kiger,

a young man who gave his life to protect the freedoms we all take for granted too often.

He never had the opportunity to marry and have a family, but the crowd today shows he certainly has an extended family

who appreciates the sacrifice he made 69 years ago.

 

 

 

 

PART 2:   Sunday 21 July 2013 :  Ceremony and Burial – Mannington WV

 

Sgt Kiger was buried today (Sunday 21 July 2013 – 69 years to the day he was shot down) between the graves of his mother and father,

who planned ahead and saved that spot in case their son was found. The town of Mannington (Population 2,000) was out in full force

 to show their appreciation for Sgt Kiger's sacrifice and to welcome him home.

 

 

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Front cover of service bulletin.



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Inside cover with order of ceremony.




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Downtown Mannington - residents lined the streets to say goodbye. The Fire Dept made a nice flag display with their trucks.




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Farther down the street in downtown Mannington.

Remember - the population of this town and surrounding area is only 2,000 and there were several hundred in the funeral procession.




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At the local school, kids had stopped their baseball game to line up across from the funeral procession route.

 




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There were many families like this with kids waving flags along the route.





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Mannington Memorial Gardens - Patriot Riders are parked to the right. They helped lead the procession.

I was in my car today since I came directly from church in Morgantown.

Plus, I wore my Air Force dress blues for only the 3rd time since retiring in 2004.




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I did not take photos during the first part of the ceremony as it was rather formal.

Here, though, Marcus Mooser (the German citizen who found the wreckage and reported it) is seen in the dark gray suit talking to the family.



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At the end of the ceremony, one white dove was released to represent Sgt Kiger's spirit soaring to the skies.

It can be seen flying near the middle of the photo.



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Shortly after, a group of white doves was also released.



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About half of the people parked below the ceremony site. It is a nice, peaceful setting.

Welcome Home and Rest In Peace, Sgt Kiger.

 

 

Links to Local TV News Reports:

 

Part 1: July 16 – Introduction to background of the story  (WDTV)

http://www.wdtv.com/wdtv.cfm?func=view&section=5-News&item=World-War-II-Vets-Family-on-his-Long-Journey-Home10814 

 

Part 2:  July 19 – Reports the procession from Pittsburgh Airport to Mannington on July 18th  (WDTV)

 http://www.wdtv.com/wdtv.cfm?func=view&section=5-News&item=World-War-II-Vet-Returns-Home-After-69-Years10867

 

 

 

Sunday night (July 21) – After burial ceremony  (WBOY)

 http://www.wboy.com/story/22896112/world-war-ii-veteran-finally-laid-to-rest-after-69-years 

(I make a brief cameo appearance at 1:33 in this video – in US Air Force dress blues saluting in background)

 

 

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