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79 years later, military identifies St. Paul airman's remains

Staff Sgt. Donald R. Duchene was shot down during a bombing mission in World War II.

ST PAUL, Minn. — In October, an airman from St. Paul who was killed during World War II is finally coming home.

In fact, Staff Sgt. Donald Duchene's remains were never even identified until this summer.

His niece is one of the closest family members still alive to share his story. 

"If we're going to honor him, his memory and his service, I need to find out all I can," said Diane Erickson, who lives in Forest Lake. 

She says Duchene joined the service when he was 19 years old. She called him an adventurous spirit who was tasked with bombing Romanian oil fields on Aug. 1, 1943.

The B-24 he was on was shot down during the mission. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) said that his remains were not recovered following the incident. 

In 2017, the DPAA began exhuming unknown remains for comparison of unaccounted-for Airmen lost during Operation Tidal Wave. A set of unknown remains from the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neupré, Belgium, were accessioned into the DPAA laboratory as part of this effort. Laboratory analysis led to the identification of the remains as those of SSG Duchenne. 

The DPAA says it used dental records and DNA to identify Duchenne. 

"There were so many who waited for his return and we get to be the ones to prepare and celebrate that," said Erickson. "It kind of seems like an honor and privilege for us."

Duchene will be buried at Fort Snelling in October. His remains are expected to arrive in Minnesota seven to 10 days prior to his service.

"We only have a few pictures of him but in each one he’s smiling, so it just makes you think he was really full of life," said Erickson, who's thankful the military never gave up on her uncle.

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