Thanks to the efforts of retired Air Force Col. James E. Moschgat, additional remains of Lt. Col. Boyd D. “Buzz” Wagner, the first World War II ace, have been returned to the place he calls home – Cambria County.
On Thursday, Moschgat served as a special escort, alongside Army Capt. Christopher Wooten. The pair conducted a military transfer, giving Grandview Cemetery possession of the gold-plated box containing the additional remains of the local hero.
Moschgat, a Windber native, accompanied Wooten from the Army’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, where the remains were positively identified.
A DNA match to Wagner’s last surviving relative, nephew Boyd Gilbert of South Carolina, confirmed the remains were Wagner’s.
It was 1942 when Wagner went missing after taking off on a routine flight out of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Twenty-five miles out and six weeks later, the P-40K he was piloting was discovered.
A war hero had fallen. He was buried in 1943 with more than 12,000 mourners graveside. The service was photographed for Life Magazine and Time.
The hometown boy was loved by an international community and known for his aerial heroics over enemy waters.
Now, nearly 70 years later, the local community prepares to inter additional remains of the hometown hero.
At Grandview, Wooten told the crowd gathered for the military transfer that he was impressed by Moschgat’s determination. Through his hands-on research he kept a promise: “No one shall be left behind.”
“I have been deployed twice to Iraq.
“When you leave, you always believe you will come home. In Lt. Col. Wagner’s case, Col. Moschgat made sure Lt. Col. Wagner was not left behind.”
Renamed group overseeing ceremony
Now that the remains of Lt. Col. Boyd D. “Buzz” Wagner, the first World War II aviation ace, are safely placed in a vault at Grandview Cemetery, Wagner’s comrades from another generation are working diligently behind the scenes to make the Oct. 23 memorial ceremony fitting for the World War II ace.
At the request of Wagner’s nephew, Col. Boyd Gilbert, Air Force Association Lt. Col. Boyd D. “Buzz” Wagner Chapter 221 of Johnstown will oversee the ceremony.
Chapter President William Burns of Westmont said the local chapter has anticipated the service for more than two years. They were awaiting positive identification of the remains. Now that the remains have been turned over to Grandview, the Air Force Association is gearing up for the solemn occasion.
Originally known as the Laurel Highlands Chapter of the Air Force Association, the group changed its name in the mid-1980s in honor of Wagner.
Bob Rutledge, chapter secretary and president of the Pennsylvania State Air Force Association, said until that time there wasn’t anything honoring the fallen hero.
“We felt it was important to remember our local hero, so we renamed the chapter,” Rutledge said. “Three years ago, Wagner was made a member of the Hall of Fame at the War Memorial.”
It only seems fitting this group oversees the community memorial. The group is inviting dignitaries and hoping for a flyover Wagner never received when he was buried in 1943. According to retired Col. James E. Moschgat, bad weather prevented the flyover on that cold winter day.
“Now we are hoping to make good on history and give him the flyby he deserved,” Moschgat said.
Details for the Oct. 23 ceremony are yet to be announced.
To learn more on Wagner or about details of the Oct. 23 event, e-mail email@example.com.