Thomas R. Yenner – Second Lieutenant, United States Army Air Force

U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Thomas R. Yenner is nearing the end of his long journey home.

Yenner was killed in a plane crash in Holland during World War II, nearly 63 years ago. The remains of Yenner and four others who died in the crash, were interred in a mass grave in Kentucky in 1950. They weren’t positively identified by the U.S. government until recently after a Dutch citizen discovered more remains. The identification was made with the help of surviving family members who submitted DNA samples.

Rita Harper, 72, of Wyoming, is Yenner’s niece. She has been working with the federal government to have the wartime hero buried at Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C.

“That’s where heroes are buried,” Harper said recently. “And he certainly is a hero. It’s a great thing the government is doing for him.”

A wake service will be held for the Kingston, Pennsylvania, native from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Murphy Funeral Home, 4510 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia. Burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery at 8:45 a.m. Monday.

“There will be quite a few family members there,” Harper said. “It will be a tribute to my uncle, a man few of them hardly knew.”

According to Larry Greer, director of public affairs at the Pentagon’s Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office:

On September 21, 1944, a C-47 Skytrain carrying Yenner and the other four airmen was delivering Polish paratroopers to a drop zone south of Arnhem, Holland, in support of Operation Market Garden. Soon after departing the drop zone, the plane crashed. No survivors were found.

The Germans opened the dikes in the region where the plane crashed, flooding the area before any remains could be recovered.

When Dutch citizens returned to their homes in Arnhem the next year (1945), they recovered remains from the Skytrain’s wreckage and buried them in a nearby cemetery. A U.S. Army graves registration team disinterred them and reburied them in 1950 at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Kentucky.

In 1994, Greer said a Dutch citizen – a souvenir hunter – located more human remains and other crew-related materials at a site associated with the C-47 crash. The remains and items were eventually turned over to U.S. officials in 2001.

Also identified as killed in the crash were: First Lieutenant Cecil W. Biggs, Teague, Texas; First Lieutenant William L. Pearce, San Antonio, Texas; Technical Russell W. Abendschoen, York; and Staff Sergeant George G. Herbst, Brooklyn, New York. Pearce was buried April 27 in Louisville, Kentucky; Herbst was buried on June 8 in Arlington; Biggs was buried June 9 in Teague, Texas; and Abendschoen was buried June 13 in Arlington.

Long journey home
Second Lieutenant Thomas R. Yenner, killed September 21, 1944, will be laid to rest at last at Arlington today.
Courtesy of the Times-Leader

When Rita Harper told her daughter, Debbie Morgan, that her great-uncle was going to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, she was happy to hear the news.


Rita Harper, of Wyoming, gets a hug from her daughter, Debbie Morgan, at the wake service
for Second Lieuenant Thomas Yenner in Arlington, Virginia, Sunday afternoon.

Her great-uncle is Second Lietuenant Thomas R. Yenner, the World War II soldier who was killed September 21, 1944, when his plane crashed in Holland. After about 60 years, the U.S. government was able to positively identify Yenner’s remains and the family was charged with planning his burial.

Morgan wanted to attend the funeral, which is scheduled for 8:45 a.m. today in Arlington. Morgan went to her employer – an orthopedic practice in Carlisle – to request the time off.

“I went to our practice manager in early June and told her I needed the time to attend a funeral on July 30th,” Morgan explained. “She looked at me and asked me how I knew that. Then I told her the story of my great-uncle.”

And what a story it is.

Lt. Yenner – Timmy to his family – was one of five crew members who were killed in the fiery plane crash during what the Allies called Operation Market Garden. The crew’s mission was to drop two Polish paratroopers in a zone south of Arnhem, Holland.

Returning from that mission, the plane crashed, but the circumstances were never explained. However, an Army report that recounts the mission mentions that “soon after departing the drop zone, crews of other U.S. aircraft involved in the mission saw flames emanating from (Lt. Yenner’s) aircraft.”

The plane crew’s remains were eventually taken to Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Kentucky and interred in a mass grave since they could not be individually identified. In 1994, more remains were discovered near the crash site and those remains were turned over to the United States in 2001.

At that time, because of the availability of DNA testing, the government requested DNA samples from surviving family members for matching. Mrs. Harper said Beatrice Czarniak, Yenner’s cousin on his father’s side, provided the DNA sample that led to the positive identification.

Czarniak lives on Pringle Street in Kingston.

“When you start to tell the story, people snap to attention,” said Mike Harper, Rita’s son and Yenner’s great-nephew. “And then they say what a thing this all is – after 63 years, burying him at Arlington National Cemetery.”

As the family members came into Murphy’s Funeral Home in Arlington on Sunday, they each went to the casket draped in the American flag, touched it, offered prayer and stared.

Lieutnant Colonel Anne Caramadre has been with the family as official representative of President Bush and the Secretary of the Army. Before going to the funeral home, Caramadre presented Rita Harper with the flag and Lieutenant Yenner’s medals.

“This flag has been given on behalf of the Secretary of the U.S. Army,” Caramadre said during a brief presentation at the hotel where Harper is staying. “The awards that Second Lieutenant Thomas Yenner earned demonstrates his commitment to the Army and our nation.”

The medals presented were the Purple Heart, the European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and the Honorable Service lapel button. Also presented were Lieutenant Yenner’s “butter bars,” the symbols of his rank.

Attending the services are Mrs. Rita Harper, Lieutenant Yenner’s niece; three of her children, Mike, of Larksville; Debbie Morgan, Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania; and Karen Gallagher, Defiance, Ohio; Morgan’s husband, David, and their daughter, Amanda, 19, and son Brandon, 21;Gallagher’s husband, Mike, and their children, Katie, 18, Michael, 15, and Emily, 13; Mrs. Harper’s sisters, Marian Cesarini, 68, and her husband, Chip, Lancaster; Margo (Peggy) Connor, 67, of Springfield, Virginia; and Carol Gallagher, 57, of Manning, South Carolina. Another sister, Dorothy Britt, of Kingston, was unable to attend.

“I think this is a terrific thing that the Army is doing for my great-uncle,” said Debbie Morgan. “This is why I wanted my children here. Even though this happened over 60 years ago, he is finally getting his proper burial. I think by all of us coming here, he is getting the respect he deserves.”

Memories of Lieutenant Yenner are few. Rita Harper said she was 10 when he was killed and she is the oldest living survivor. She vaguely recalls her great-uncle, remembering his as small in stature but a very handsome young man.

“I can still see him in his uniform clutching his bag when he was heading off to war,” Harper said. “He was a nice man, too. Who would have thought that would be the last time any of us would see him.”

Margo Connor said she was only 5 when Yenner died, but she has one vivid memory of him. “For some reason, I can remember he was home on leave and he was washing his hands in the kitchen sink and he was talking to his mother in Lithuanian,” Connor recalled.

“She was crying because he was about to go overseas and she didn’t want him to go. I know he said something to me, but I really can’t remember what. That’s all I can remember.”

Mrs. Cesarini said she knows Lieutenant Yenner was interested in photography because she has pictures of herself as a very young girl that Yenner took.

“I was only 6 when he died,” Cesarini said. “I was only maybe 2 years old when he took the pictures. I really can’t remember anything else.”

Conversations at wake services usually center on the deceased and their life, with surviving friends and relatives recounting special times and often telling humorous stories. At Lt. Yenner’s wake service, most of the conversation centered on vague recollections and also appreciation for his service to the country, and all voiced how proud they were that he is being given a hero’s send off.

“He deserves it,” Rita Harper said as she stared at the flag-draped casket. “He’s a true American hero.”

31 July 2007:

The flag-draped casket of Army Second Lieuenant Thomas Yenner was led slowly through sprawling Arlington National Cemetery on Monday by a horse-drawn caisson, the final leg of a long journey.

For decades, Lieuenant Yenner’s remains lay undiscovered near where his plane crashed in the Netherlands during a World War II mission.

Now, he’s interred among heroes.

The Kingston soldier’s funeral was the first of the day at the historic cemetery, his burial crafted with the pomp and ceremony that typify this sacred place where two U.S. presidents are buried. Lieuetnant Yenner’s service also included an escort platoon of soldiers and a military band that marched in front of the caisson pulled by six white horses.

Surviving loved ones mulled having Lieuenant Yenner buried near several of his seven siblings in Pringle, but decided on the revered Arlington National Cemetery.

“Now, he could rest in peace. I felt he was a hero. He deserves to be buried at Arlington,” said Lieutenant Yenner’s oldest living relative, his niece, Rita Harper, 72, of Wyoming.

Lieuenant Yenner and four others were killed when their plane crashed September 21, 1944, in Arnhem in the Netherlands. He was 21.

Monday’s funeral came nearly 63 years later — 22,956 days, to be exact.

Years of mystery ended earlier this year when Lieutenant Yenner’s remains were finally identified. According to the military’s report, after the plane crashed, the Germans flooded the area before the bodies could be found. The next year, remains were recovered and later buried as a group in Kentucky’s Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in 1950 because they could not be individually identified.

Then, in 1994, a Dutch citizen found more remains, which were eventually handed over to the U.S. military and finally linked to Lt. Yenner through DNA.

About a dozen of Lieutenant Yenner’s relatives attended Monday’s solemn service. Only three — Mrs. Harper and her sisters, Marian Cesarini, 68, Lancaster, and Peggy Connor, 67, Springfield, Virginia — ever met him.

He would have been 83 today. All seven of his older siblings have died, never knowing for sure their brother’s fate.

Mrs. Harper was 11 when the tragedy occurred.

“I remember it well,” she said. “When they notified us, my father (Lieutenant Yenner’s brother) carried on terrible. He was going to go over and kill Hitler. He was so upset about it. It was a sad day.

“(Lieutenant Yenner) was only home for 30 days, and when he went back, not long after, he was killed. I just picture him that one day when he was going back with the one-piece fatigue on and that big bag and he was gone. That was the last I ever seen him.”

Mrs. Harper’s son, Michael Harper, 49, who is Lieutenant Yenner’s great-nephew, said the family will be forever grateful to the military for its dedicated effort to find his remains and give him a proper funeral.

“It’s just nice to know the country will go to extremes to find and recognize them,” he said. “This teaches our kids we won’t forget our war heroes.”

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