CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - After missing in action for more than 70 years, a World War II army pilot will be receiving the full military honor service his family had been longing for.
Evan Calott never knew his uncle, First Lieutenant Francis Pitonyak. Despite that fact, his uncle remained the driving force behind Evan's own career.
"I always told my grandmother I wanted to be a pilot and look for Uncle Frank."
It was back in October of 1943 that the Army Air Force First Lieutenant was piloting a plane that went down in New Guinea. Investigators located the plane wreckage in the 1980's, but it wasn't until last year that a recovery team located dental remains of Francis Pitonyak.
"We've heard the weather deteriorated and he wasn't able to get back to his home base and ended up landing next to a river. They're not sure if he survived the crash or not because his remains were a short distance from the aircraft, so they don't know if he was thrown from it or survived and got out of the cockpit and wandered off a little."
Pitonyak was one of eight children and has one surviving sister here in Charlotte. Of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, more than 400,000 died during the war. Roughly 73,000 are still unaccounted for.
Mementos, like the coins Frank had in his pocket and his wedding ring, now memorialize the heroic efforts of the man Evan always looked up to, but never got to meet. Although it took more than 70 years to get it, this family feels lucky to finally have some closure.
"The Department of Defense is doing an amazing job trying to honor him, so it's exciting to be a part of that. It's a sad occasion because he passed away, but it's an amazing honor they're respecting the sacrifice he made."
First Lieutenant Francis Pitonyak will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC Friday.