Before Saturday, the gravestone of U.S. Army Air Forces Tech. Sgt. Max W. Lower sat only on grass, soil and 77 years of uncertainty.
With a tearful goodbye and military honors, the Lower family finally found closure as the newly identified remains of the fallen World War II veteran were buried in the cemetery at Lewiston, in northern Utah.
“We are so thankful for the wonderful example he has set for us,” said Max Lower’s younger brother, Samuel Steven Lower Jr., who was 6 years old when the family bid farewell to Lower in 1942.
The next year, Max Lower was working as the radio operator on a B-24 Liberator bomber when it was shot down over Ploiesti, Romania. Some 310 airmen were killed in Operation Tidal Wave on Aug.1, 1943 — an attack on oil fields and refineries that fueled the Nazi military.
Max Lower’s remains were not identified at the time; Romanian government officials were able to identify only 21 of the American bodies recovered, and they buried the rest in a Romanian military cemetery. Those remains were later moved to a U.S military cemetery in Belgium.
But back at the Lower family farm in Lewiston, there was “anguish,” recalled Max Lower’s sister, Helen Simmons. Simmons was 14 when the family got word that Max Lower was missing.
"It was just like a continual funeral," said Simmons, now 90. "Then when he was declared dead a year later, it all started up again."
As she sat in her hometown on Saturday, watching members of the Utah National Guard fold a flag over her brother's coffin, Simmons wept.
She has visited his empty grave every Memorial Day and Independence Day since he died, she said.
"Last Memorial Day, I wondered, 'Will I live to see those remains back here?'" Simmons said, crying again as she clutched the flag after the funeral.
Samuel Lower recalled the toll on the family after his brother's disappearance.
"My sweet mother went through the most," he said. "Many, many times, people of good will would say, 'Maybe he's a prisoner,' and she would hold out hope."
If his mother were here today, he said, "She would want us to get back to work and spread the good word [of] how powerful America could be if we loved each other, instead of the divisive politics we have now."
The greatest tribute to his brother, he said, would be to honor the freedoms Max Lower fought for — freedoms Samuel Lower said he fears are threatened as Americans become increasingly polarized.
“I’ve never seen America in a more dangerous situation than we are now,” he said. “We have to continue to work for the freedom of everyone in the world.”