PHILADELPHIA — A nephew of an eastern Pennsylvania soldier who died in a plane crash in Europe more than six decades ago says the family is grateful that his remains have been identified and can be laid to rest.
Services for Staff Sgt. Zoltan Dobovich of Allentown, who died along with seven others in the Nov. 1, 1946 crash of a B-17 in the French-Italian alps, are to be held Wednesday and Thursday at the Perinchief Chapels in Mount Holly, N.J. His remains were returned Monday to family members in a ceremony at Philadelphia International Airport after a flight from the Defense Department's Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu.
"It really feels good knowing he's been identified and we'll have him close so we can visit him," Carlton Dobovich told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
After a visitation Wednesday night at the Perinchief Chapels in Mount Holly, N.J., Dobovich is to receive a military funeral Thursday at the Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Cemetery in North Hanover Township. His brother, Anthony, who died in 2006, is also interred at the Burlington County cemetery. Gov. Chris Christie has ordered the U.S. and New Jersey flags to fly at half-staff at New Jersey state facilities in his honor.
Carlton Dobovich told the paper that his father and uncle were very close as boys, and Anthony Dobovich would be "delirious" if he were alive to learn that his brother's remains had at last been identified.
Zoltan Dobovich, the youngest of five children to Hungarian immigrant farmers, was 18 when he joined the Army in Allentown on Dec. 7, 1943, the second anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. After serving in the infantry, he joined the Army Air Corps as a radioman during the war, and it was in that position that he was aboard the Flying Fortress on the postwar flight from Naples to an airfield outside London.
The purpose of the pre-dawn flight remains unknown, and Carlton Dobovich said his efforts to answer to that question have been unsuccessful.
The plane was reported missing, and the wreckage was located the following year at 12,000 feet on the mountain known as the Aiguilles des Glaciers. Some remains found then were interred in Arlington National Cemetery, but individual remains could not be identified. In the 1970s and 1980s, more wreckage and remains were recovered, and DNA testing recently identified some of them as those of Dobovich, who was 21 at the time of the crash.
Carlton Dobovich said the match was made from a cousin in Georgia whom they had not known existed.
Francis Raout, a young soldier in the French unit that found the wreckage in 1947, told the newspaper in an email that he was grateful to have "rendered service" to the nation "whose sons liberated France."
"I would never have thought that in 2012 I could offer my sincere condolences to the family of Zoltan Dobovich," he said.