Remains of Rochester World War II pilot are returning home

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The remains of a World War II pilot from Rochester will be buried in a cemetery in Wayne County on May 20.

For nearly 80 years, his remains were unknown and buried in a cemetery in Romania, then later Belgium. Thanks to DNA and dental records, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency was able to match the remains to U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. John Thomas.

Thomas was 23 years old when his plane was shot down on Aug. 1, 1943. above Ploiesti, Romania during Operation TIDAL WAVE. The mission was critical to destroying oil refineries that Germany depended on, eliminating nearly 4 million tons of oil. Thomas was part of the 345th Bombardment Squad, 98th Bombardment Group, and 9th Air Force.

When his B-24 Liberator crashed, Thomas’ remains couldn’t be identified so he was buried in Romania at the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan. After the war, a group tasked with recovering fallen American soldiers examined Thomas’ remains but he was one of more than 80 soldiers who couldn’t be identified. Their remains were all re-buried in Belgium, at either the Ardennes American Cemetery or Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery.

In 2017, the unknown remains of people who died in Operation TIDAL WAVE were sent to a lab in Nebraska. Using mitochondrial DNA, Y chromosome DNA analysis, and dental records, the researchers found a match in September of 2022.

Thomas will be buried at North Rose Cemetery. There will be a ceremony by Farnsworth-Keysor Funeral Home after the burial.