• World War II airman finally comes home

  • Politte laid to rest.

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    After 75 years being listed as missing in action from World War II, U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Vincent Politte finally returned home and was laid to rest with full military honors July 30 in the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.
    Several members of the Politte family were in attendance including Vincent Politte’s three younger siblings, Dorothy Culp of Kansas City, Mo., Phil Politte of Roseburg, Ore., and Leo Politte of Oklahoma City.
    “There’s closure and there’s a sense of what he did for us,” Leo Politte said. “We should be more aware of that. Last night I talked about the centurion soldier, a faithful soldier. That’s what Vince was — a faithful, trusting, protective soldier.”
    Dozens of Fort Leavenworth soldiers, civilians and firefighters of the Fort Leavenworth and Leavenworth Fire Departments lined Grant Avenue waving flags as the funeral procession passed led by Kansas Patriot Guard, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion Riders. Following a Mass of Christian Burial at Pioneer Chapel, the procession proceeded to Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.
    During the ceremony at the cemetery, soldiers of the 15th Military Police Brigade fired salute volleys, retired Col. Sam Young played Taps, and the Fort Leavenworth Honor Guard folded the flag as an OC-135 from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., flew overhead.
    Following the flyover, Mission Command Training Program Command Sgt. Maj. Michael McKay presented the folded flag to Culp, and “Amazing Grace” was performed by bagpipers retired Reserve Maj. John Bauer, retired Sgt. 1st Class Terry Bair and retired Lt. Col. Dale Cleland.
    “I’m just pleased that I realized the culture of the military still exists. They honor our dead and their traditions. They have value for honor and integrity, which you don’t often find in our society,” Phil Politte said.
    “I don’t think (the younger generation) is aware of what went on during that time, the sacrifices this country made. I’m talking about men and women. The efforts we did, we can’t just honor Vincent. We need to honor that whole generation of veterans and others that served.”
    Vincent Politte was born March 2, 1924, in Kirkwood, Mo., to Melvin Politte (1895-1972) and Velma Politte (1899-1989). He has two other siblings, brother Francis Politte and sister Theresa Eberth, who both passed in 2007. He graduated from Immaculata High School in 1941 at the age of 17, serving as a cadet lieutenant colonel in Junior ROTC his senior year.
    At the age of 19, Politte served as a gunner with the 345th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 9th U.S. Army Air Force, in the summer of 1943. He was killed in action while participating in a raid on the Ploesti oil refinery complex north of Bucharest, Romania, during Operation Tidal Wave. The goal of the operation was to destroy the refineries to interfere with the German war effort. During the raid, Politte’s B-24 Liberator heavy bomber was hit by machine gun fire and crashed, leaving his remains unidentifiable following the war.
    Page 2 of 3 - For two days after Politte went missing, U.S. Army Air Forces sent search planes over the target areas of the Ploesti raid. However, because the targets were still in flames and the remaining refineries were heavily guarded, the target areas were unable to be searched. Eventually, Romanian citizens recovered and buried deceased American airmen. After World War II ended, the American Graves Registration Command searched for and recovered fallen American personnel and created an Individual Deceased Personnel File for each of them. The files contained military and civilian medical records and documentation of search and recovery efforts. The unknown files and remains were labeled with an X and a number. The recovered remains were temporarily buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium.
    There, at the identification laboratory, investigators conducted forensic analysis of dental and physical features and compared them to records of those lost Aug. 1, 1943. Through this process, 145 airmen were identified, including seven of Politte’s crewmates, but none were Politte.
    Due to the evidence they had, the AGRC believed that Politte’s remains were unrecoverable. However, in 2013, historians and anthropologists at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began a project to research and disinter all World War II unknowns recovered in Romania, and in 2016, they initiated a special project to review and assess all available IDPFs for American losses in Romania.
    Starting with 80 unresolved cases, one file labeled X-5056 was compared and narrowed down to 41 soldiers. Dental records further brought the number down to seven. From there, X-5056 was disinterred and sent to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base where they did further analysis. Eventually, DNA matches with Dorothy, Phil and Leo, and a chest X-ray taken when Politte enlisted because his sister Theresa had been exposed to tuberculosis, X-5056 was officially identified as Staff Sgt. Vincent Politte.
    Culp said it was difficult when the family received word that his remains had been identified.
    “It was like I had to mourn all over again,” she said. “That’s why I wrote the eulogy and that was very therapeutic for me.”
    Culp shared the eulogy she wrote at the visitation July 29 at Davis Funeral Chapel in Leavenworth.
    “My memories of Vincent are those of a thoughtful, generous and kind person. When I speak to my siblings, they echo my sentiments,” Culp said.
    “In his short 19 years on this earth, he gave love and received love in return… He taught (my brothers) to play fair, take turns and to be respectful of our mother … He held my hand as we walked to school and I always felt safe when he was around.”
    Culp said it is difficult thinking about how her brother’s life was cut short.
    Page 3 of 3 - “It is sad for me that he never had a great love, held his firstborn or knew the thrill of a grandchild,” she said.
    “I choose to believe that he gave to each of his siblings attributes that made us better human beings. I admired his intelligence and envied the ease with which he seemed to learn with such zest. He would say ‘it was a no sweat test.’
    “When I envision him through his life, I see a man of integrity.”
    Culp said she takes comfort in the belief that Vincent would be proud of his siblings.
    “One thing I know for certain,” Culp said, “we were all proud of him.”
    Politte is buried in Section R Site 1041A, only a few headstones away from his parents, Melvin and Velma, in Section R Site 1015. Melvin Politte was a World War I veteran.
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