Lansing — Carolyn Speedy Fuqua was three months old when World War II began. So she doesn’t have many memories of her Uncle Bobby who went missing months after she was born.
But she does recall, after the conflict, how her Uncle Ed would rush to the radio any time broadcasters announced the release of prisoners of war.
The fate of Uncle Bobby, or U.S. Army Air Force First Lt. Robert Parker, would remain unknown for 76 years and a total of 78 before his family could bring him home.
“We are all thinking about our grandparents and our parents and how they longed for this day, they longed to know what happened to their son and their brother,” said Speedy Fuqua, who lives in Andersonville, Indiana. “They longed for that knowledge. They never received that knowledge.”
Parker was interred at Deepdale Memorial Cemetery Monday, where he was laid to rest beside his mother and father, 78 years after he went missing and two years after his remains were retrieved from the site of his 1943 plane crash in New Guinea.
A pilot in the 35th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, 23-year-old Parker was flying a P-40N Warhawk fighter on a patrol mission Nov. 15, 1943 when enemy aircraft swarmed his plane and others near the southern edge of the Finisterre Range in New Guinea, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Parker shot down an enemy aircraft before a collision with another enemy plane sheered off his and the other plane’s wing.
He crashed near Sagarak, but officials were unable to find his plane during an aerial search. He was declared missing in action and, a year later, was presumed dead. After the war, in 1948, the American Graves Registration Service searched for Parker but were unable to find him.
Third-party investigators in 2010 found a portion of the a P-40 tail and part of a tail number matching Parker’s plane. Eight years later, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency visited a nearby village where there were several pieces of the wreckage and where residents told the agency the plane was about a half-day’s walk form the village.
Bad weather and difficult terrain prevented the team from reaching the site that year. But in May 2019, they returned after hearing there were possible human remains recovered from the crash site. Officials negotiated with villagers to get the remains and pieces of the aircraft, according to the POW agency.
Investigators then used dental and anthropological analysis, circumstantial evidence, Y chromosome DNA and mitochondrial DNA analysis to determine the remains belonged to Parker.
Many of Parker’s nieces and nephews and their children and grandchildren were gathered by his burial site Monday to honor the relative they’d only heard about in stories.
Jane Moore, a niece of Parker’s, was born after Parker died, but she remembered her grandmother showing her her uncle’s Purple Heart medal.
“It’s almost like a closure,” Moore said of Monday’s ceremony. “So many people are here. Unfortunately, not his folks. I would have loved it if they had been here because they were heartbroken.”
Richard Parker, Robert Parker’s nephew, was born after his uncle died but Richard Parker recalled that his father looked up to his little brother who had the “charisma” of a leader. Richard Parker, who served in the U.S. Air Force for 24 years, said he was thankful for the measures taken to bring his uncle home.
“It’s very moving,” Parker said. “I don’t really have the words to express it.”