When the Delta flight from Atlanta was pulling up to its terminal at Mitchell International
Airport Tuesday afternoon, May 24, the United States Air Force and Transportation Security Administration honor guards were ready. They saluted as it rolled by. This flight contained the remains of Airman Second Class Thomas Condon placed in a casket and wrapped in an American flag.
William “Bill” Condon, the deceased’s brother, was on the ground waiting beside the hearse. Now in his 80s, Condon last saw his older brother in 1952 when he was 18 years old and before his brother would get his orders to go to Korea with the Air Force. While enroute to Alaska, Thomas Condon’s
plane crashed and wasn’t found until 2012.
The baggage handlers gently unloaded the casket onto a baggage cart. The Air Force honor guard marched in unison to the casket. The hearse backed up near the plane. Condon took some tissues from his pocket and wiped his eyes. It was his DNA that had confirmed the “perfect match” and allowed for his brother to finally come home.
Rain was forecast but it held off as the honor guard took hold of the casket containing one of their fallen brethren and again marched in unison as they escorted and placed it into the hearse. No other bags were unloaded until the casket was safely in place.
Less than 24 hours later, the casket was open in St. Joseph Church, Waukesha, the site of the first memorial service for Thomas Condon in 1952. Visitors to the casket saw a neatly pressed uniform. Some of the local veterans were in attendance and saluted the casket and flag.
One of those veterans was Wayne Tabbert, a member of St. Joseph Parish, and veteran of the Korean War with the U.S. Army.
“As a Korean veteran I felt that it was my duty to stop here today and pay my respects,” Tabbert said, adding he’s going to pray for the family and still has trouble talking about his experience. “It’s pretty difficult to
explain what all went on.”
After the funeral Mass the casket was escorted to St. Joseph Cemetery, a mile and a half west of the parish. There it was given full military honors and Condon received the folded American flag on behalf of his family.
But this wasn’t like other military funerals. After nearly 64 years it finally brought closure to the family that turned into a bit of happiness.
“It’s probably been the most delightful experience I ever had in my life,” Condon said. “These last 24 hours have been amazing. [su_pullquote align=”right”]RELATED STORY
Finally coming home: Nearly 64 years later, funeral Mass brings closure to brother of lost airman[/su_pullquote]What they (the military) can do is just amazing.”
It was the homecoming Condon thought would never happen.
“Not in my lifetime,” he said.