Walter P. “Slug” Szeliga – Staff Sergeant, United States Army Air Corps

From a contemporary press report: February 1996

Florence Choma, a homemaker who grew up in Hamtramck and lived most of her life in Roseville, Michigan, died after a long illness Tuesday, February 12, 1996, at St. John-Bon Secours Senior Center in Detroit. She was 75.

Mrs. Choma had a 47-year-old mystery solved in January 1990 when the remains of her older brother, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Walter P. “Slug” Szeliga, were discovered at the site of a 1943 plane crash in New Guinea.

“I couldn't believe that the Air Force would keep looking for him that long and then, after all those years, that it would even be possible to find him,” Mrs. Choma said six years ago. “I only wish that our mother had known what happened to Walter before she died in 1973.”

Walter Szeliga, also of Hamtramck, was a 23-year-old turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber in December 1943 that crashed into a jungle-covered mountainside near Port Moresby, New Guinea, while attempting a night landing.

When Szeliga's aircraft failed to show up, the 10-man crew was listed as missing in action, then killed in action. Their remains weren't discovered until 1984, when a crew surveying mineral deposits discovered the crash site.

It took six years for the Air Force to identify all 10 men and ship their remains back to the United States. They were buried with full military honors in a common grave in 1990 at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C. Mrs. Choma and her two sisters, Bernice and Stella, attended the funeral.

“They had a band, the horse-drawn caisson and even a gun salute,” she recalled later. “All that for 10 young airmen who would be 70 years old or older and had been missing for nearly 50 years. It was unbelieveable.”

Mrs. Choma is survived by her husband, Joseph; a son, Joseph; a daughter, Marilyn Waldmeir, wife of Detroit News columnist Pete Waldmeir; two sisters; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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