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Trail war hero finally comes home after 70 years

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
June 11th, 2015

After more than 70 years, a fallen Trail war hero is finally coming home.

Airman Sgt. Eric Mitchell Honeyman was 21 when his bomber, with six airmen on board, was shot down in Belgium on Dec. 23, 1944 – at which point they and their craft disappeared, according to his oldest living relative, Scott Honeyman (who is a newsstory in his own right, having started his journalism career at the Trail Daily Times and going on to boast a career that spanned the country and included the title of managing editor for the Vancouver Sun. He’s now retired and lives in Vancouver, but remains a fundamental figure in Trail history.)

“None of us knew him or got a chance to meet him,” Scott said (Ed. Note: to avoid confusion, we’ll use first names to clarify which person to whom we are referring). “But all of us knew how this affected his parents. They were never the same after he went missing.”

Sadly, Eric’s parents had both passed away before his remains were found – both donated their bodies to science – but they kept Eric’s photo on their mantel for many years, Scott said in a Vancouver Sun article (see http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Airman+returns+home+years+after+plane+shot+down/10199076/story.html It’s well worth the read).

An incredibly poignant turn of events began in 2006, when hikers discovered a few scraps of cloth – Scott describes it in his article:

“In 2006, a group of hikers discovered a couple of shreds of a flying jacket near what had always been believed to be the tail of Bank Nite Betty outside Allmuthen, Belgium, on the border with Germany.

“One of the pieces of the jacket was embroidered with the letter H, the other contained three numbers: 489.

“The three numbers were the last three digits of the service number, H39037489, and the letter was the initial of the last name of Sgt. Eric Mitchell Honeyman. He was the bomb toggler on Hunconscious.”

Scott said he was very impressed by the US military’s commitment to ‘leave no man behind’, searching for decades – bordering on centuries – to find their lost compatriots.

“It’s incredible that the Americans never stopped looking,” he said, adding the hikers’ find was confirmed after he and his brothers, fascinated by the events, submitted to DNA swabs. “The US Army hired a genealogist to find us in Trail.”

DNA results confirmed that the remains were Eric’s, and a multi-decade mystery was solved.

“There will be a full military funeral in Trail on June 22, with a 21-gun salute, and another at the Arlington Memorial in Washington for all six airmen,” he said, adding that Eric’s remains will land in Castlegar on June 20, accompanied by a nine-member honour guard from the U.S. as well as local cadet honours.

He said the 21-gun salute should echo resoundingly in the valley – as did Eric’s heroic actions.

“It’s a very big thing,” he said. “It’s the end of a story. It gives us a chance to learn about the sacrifices these guys made – I think the oldest guy in the bomber was 21 – that generation changed the world.”

Marnie Matthews, a local nurse whose father’s father and Eric’s father were brothers, said she fondly remembers Eric’s parents – but she also remembers their pain.

“He was their only son,” she said. “Aunty Bella and Uncle Eddie were wonderful people, but they had to watch our family grow, new children and grandchildren – while their family died when Eric did.

“I feel this honours my grandparents and it honours my Dad. It is an honourable and wonderful thing to do, and I am so proud – and it gives us an opportunity to reunite as a family.”

From the Trail Champion and the Castlegar Source: Eric, welcome home.

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