MANTECA — As America and its allies were celebrating V J Day on Aug. 15, 1945, World War II was at its close, but a wound the war left in one Manteca family was still very much open.
“I was, I was always really proud of him,” said Vi Davis, as she talked about her oldest brother Homer Spence.
He was the second born.
She was a timid number five out of seven and remembers the funny, or maybe not so funny, things Spence used to do before he became an Army Air Forces first lieutenant.
“My big brothers and sisters used to take me out in the dark and then run,” she recalled with a laugh.
The 22-year-old brother who played tricks like that was behind the controls of a P-38J returning from a bomber aircraft escort on July 20, 1944.
“He radioed one of the other pilots to tell them he was not feeling good. By the time the pilot got up to him he was already slumped over,” said Spence’s niece Kathy Mozzetti.
He was last seen in the skies between Germany and Austria 13 months before the war ended.
The area was still under enemy control at the time, preventing any search for a crash site.
“Chaos, you know we were all tore up,” remembered Davis. “My parents really suffered from losing their first born son.”
That’s what the aftermath was in the Spence family.
With him gone and no real answers, there was a confused swirl of emotions that flared and ebbed for 66 years until 2010, when a private researcher found crash wreckage on Heidenberg Mountain near Bruneck, Italy.
Niece Kathy points to pictures of his rusted knife and knife holder that have been provided to them by the U.S. Army.
Those items are just some of what was eventually found by teams from the Department of Defense’s POW/Missing in Action Accounting Agency.
They excavated the area between 2012 and 2016.
“There was enough where they could get DNA off some of the things,” said Davis.
“Me and my nephew answered the call for DNA.”
Since First Lieutenant Spence’s plane was the only known aircraft of its type lost in summer 1944 within 50 kilometers of the crash site, that made it highly likely he’d been found.
But, the DNA match confirmed just two months ago meant he was on his way home — finally.
“I always wished for them to find his remains,” said Mozzetti.
“Just nice to know that he’s coming home.”
Spence’s remains were flown to San Jose on Wednesday night with full military honors.
He will be remembered in a memorial service Saturday at Manteca’s Park View Cemetery, one complete with a 21-gun salute.