A hero's homecoming 74 years later

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- More than seven decades after his plane crashed in the South Pacific, during WWII, the remains of Army Air Force veteran George Van Fleet Jr. have come home to Fresno.

Ann Wanger hasn't seen her father since she was two years old. He was stationed in the Pacific Theater during the war, so she knows him through stories her mother would tell and the letters he wrote. "He always said to my mother, 'be sure to say hi to Ann for me,' because I could tell he didn't want to be forgotten," Wanger says.

Van Fleet's body was buried in Tarawa after his plane crashed into a lagoon off the island. His body went unidentified until his family got a call from the nonprofit History Flight.

Ann says, "it was a shock, and in the beginning, you are a little disbelieving. I did think, 'What could possibly be left?' We were told he was buried in the sand there. It was a great shock to find out."

Van Fleet was 33 years old when he enlisted after graduating Stanford University, getting his masters from Cornell and teaching Wildlife Forestry and Management at George Washington University, a nod to his beloved time spent at Shaver Lake with his family.

Van Fleet's casket was flown in from Dallas with full military honors.

His family plans to bring his remains to the Shaver Lake area for a private service.
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