CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – A World War II hero who was declared missing in action in 1945 and later became a viral video phenomenon will be laid to rest in Clearwater this weekend.
Army Air Forces 1st Lt. George W. Betchley of Yonkers, New York, was 20 years-old when the B-17 he was in was shot down by German fighters near Janowek, Poland on March 22, 1945. Eight of the ten crew members on the B-17 were not recovered, including Betchley.
In 1948, a set of remains was recovered from a cemetery at Janówek that was not able to be identified. The remains were interred at the United States Military Cemetery Neuville-en-Condroz, in Belgium, where they remained for nearly 70 years.
On July 7, 2016, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency sent the remains, which turned out to be Betchley’s, to the agency’s laboratory in Hawaii for analysis.
Diane Hollifield Cupp happened to be on the same flight as Betchley’s remains and recorded a video of a school choir’s touching tribute to the war hero.
“We landed in Atlanta to change planes, and they made an announcement over the intercom that the remains of a World War II hero were on board,” said Cupp. “As this was happening, all these teenagers started singing. I had no idea it would go viral.”
Betchley’s remains were recently identified through DNA analysis, which matched him to several cousins.
Betchley’s family found out about the viral video honoring the fallen hero and invited her to his funeral service.
“I was contacted by his niece who lives in New York,” said Cupp. “It melted my heart,” said Cupp, who will attend Betchley’s funeral in Clearwater this weekend.
“I feel so blessed and honored to have been a part of such a beautiful tribute to this hero who sacrificed everything for our country in keeping us safe,” Cupp told WFLA.com.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,990 service members still unaccounted for from World War II.
Betchley’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at an American Battle Monuments Commission site along with the other MIAs from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Sgt. 1st Class Kristen Duus, DPAA contributed to this article.
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