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Remains of WWII soldier from Petaluma buried

April 22, 2011 7:09:04 PM PDT
A Petaluma soldier finally came home. His cremated remains were buried Friday with full military honors. What makes the story of U.S. Army Air Force Pfc. Mervyn Earl Sims so unusual is that he died in World War II. So why is there a 68-year gap between his death and his burial?

Sims reached his final resting place -- the cemetery where his mother and father are buried.

"He's back home where he belongs with his family," said school friend Lilly Fishman.

Fishman brought her yearbook from Petaluma High School. She and Betty Barlas grew up with him.

"I went from first grade all the way to high school with Mervyn," said Barlas.

They both said the same thing. He was nice young man. And like many of the young men, the 23-year-old enlisted in the Army Air Force. On April 24, 1943 his army cargo plane, a C-87 Liberator, crashed over "the hump" -- the term pilots used for the dangerous 500-mile route that crisscrossed the jagged ridges of the Himalayas. The plane, Sims, and four other crewmembers were bringing supplies to Chinese troops fighting the Japanese.

In 2003, a private expedition searching for MIA's found the wreckage and Sims' bones. Clayton Kuhles, who led the expedition says, by luck his guide found a small piece of aluminum.

"I looked at it and here was the aircraft data plate. It was kind of beat up, but this was the most identifier you could find," said Kuhles.

Two months ago, the Army notified Sims next of kin Sharon Roloff that they had finally identified him through a DNA sample. Roloff is Sims' niece, but never knew her uncle. Friday, she got to know him better through his friends like Eveylyn Ransom, Sims' first girlfriend.

"He was a wonderful guy, but I didn't have him around long enough when they took him into the service," said Ransom.

"I think the community got what it needed as well as us as a family got what we needed and it's a perfect day," said Roloff.

It was a day celebrated with sadness and gratitude. Most never knew Sims, but on Friday everyone at the service was his friend.

On Thursday, an American Legion escort team led a motorcade which carried Sims' urn from the airport in Sonoma to Cypress Hill Memorial Park in Petaluma. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders and Warrior Watch Riders were also on hand.


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