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WWII airman's remains finally head home; town plans tribute

Aug. 2, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Dominick Licari
This undated handout photo provided by the Licari family shows World War II airman Sgt. Dominick Licari, right, with other airmen. Licari's, remains were identified nearly 70 years after his plane and two others slammed into a remote, jungle-covered mountainside in the South Pacific. His remains will be returned to his upstate New York hometown for burial. (AP)
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Relatives say they were notified by military officials in July 2013 that bone fragments found at a WWII crash site on the island of Papua-New Guinea were that of Sgt. Dominick Licari. (AP)

ALBANY, N.Y. — At Melrose Market, the windows facing the street were decorated with American flags and a sign that read: “Thank you and Welcome Home Sgt. Dominick Licari.” Organizations and business owners along Route 5 posted signs in Licari’s honor Friday.

The World War II airman died in combat almost 70 years ago in the South Pacific, but his remains were only recently identified. Finally, he was returning home to Frankfort, 70 miles west of Albany.

“We just thought it would be a nice tribute for him for giving his life for our country,” said grocery store owner Linda LaValla. “It’s good to know that they take the time years later to find our servicemen and bring them home. It’s closure for everybody.”

Veterans’ groups, businesses and residents along a 10-mile stretch of New York’s Mohawk Valley planned to pay tribute to Licari. Honor guards from Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters would be posted along Route 5 as the vehicle procession carrying his casket leaves the New York State Thruway at Little Falls and travels to Frankfort, funeral director Vincent Iocovozzi told The Associated Press.

A commercial flight carrying his casket was scheduled to arrive at the Albany airport Friday evening, Iocovozzi said. Military pall bearers will carry the casket from the plane to the hearse that will take his remains to Frankfort, he said. Licari’s brother, sister and several nieces and nephews will be at the airport to accompany his casket back home, with the Patriot Guard motorcycle riders providing an escort, the funeral director said.

Licari was a 31-year-old gunner aboard a two-man Army Air Force A-20 Havoc bomber that crashed into a mountain in Papua New Guinea on March 13, 1944, while returning from a bombing raid on a Japanese airfield. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Valorie Pollard of Monterey, Calif., also was killed, along with four airmen in two of the mission’s other A-20s that slammed into the same jungle-covered mountain in bad weather.

Licari, one of nine children in his family, was officially declared dead in 1946. Last month, U.S. military officials notified his two surviving siblings that his remains and those of Pollard were found and identified. Licari’s funeral and burial with full military honors are set for Tuesday in Frankfort. Pollard’s burial arrangements are still pending, Pentagon official said.

News of Licari’s remains and their impending return to Frankfort has stirred emotions in his hometown and other nearby mill towns lining the western end of the Mohawk River. Veterans, firefighters, law enforcement officers and local residents planned to line Route 5 and salute his procession, said Iocovozzi, a distant relative of the Licari family.

“It’s really turning into a wonderful tribute to a hero,” Iocovozzi said before the procession.

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