WWII airman, whose letters are centerpiece of museum exhibit, finally laid to rest in Riverside

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- Seventy-five years after Staff Sgt. Vincent Rogers was killed during a combat mission off the Tarawa Atoll Islands, his remains have finally been laid to rest. The 21-year-old World War II airman was interred at the Riverside National Cemetery with a ceremony honoring his service and sacrifice.

Until this past March, the exact location of his remains had remained a mystery. His remains were discovered on the island in an unmarked grave and identified with help from History Flight, Inc. and a DNA sample matched to his cousin.

"He wished in all his letters to be back in United States at home," said Tom Rogers, the airman's cousin who provided the DNA sample. "This was like a big homecoming for him."

Rogers flew in from Texas and joined his cousin Wayne Rogers of Menifee for the ceremony.

"Some of the emotions I don't think I can express in words. It is amazing," said Wayne Rogers.

In 2010, the two cousins corresponded after Tom discovered a trove of letters written by their cousin to his mother during the war.

"He said Wayne I found all these 230 letters that Buddy wrote and he said I am going to send them to you," said Wayne Rogers.

The two recognized the historic importance of the letters and donated them to the March Field Air Museum. In 2015, an exhibit was created centered on the letter Rogers wrote during his time in the service. Visitors to the museum can hear his letters spoken through the voice of an actor.

"In that I caught the personality of a 19-year-old man," said Jeff Houlihan, March Field Air Museum director of collections, exhibits and restoration.

The museum updated the exhibit to include that Rogers' remains had been identified. He is now resting within view of the museum and the air field he did some of his training.

"Not a veteran, not someone who wanted to be a general in the Air Force, or wanted to win the war by himself, but a young man who wanted to do his part and come back the United States, marry his fiancé and go on with his life," said Houlihan.

The exhibit takes visitors through Rogers' enlistment in the Army Air Force to his training at March Air Base to his death on Jan. 22, 1944 when his B24J bomber went down, killing him and six other crew members.
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