TIPTON -- Jeannine McIntosh-Baker remembers that her brother loved life. He loved music – he played the accordion – and he loved to dance.

“He was just an all-around good guy,” said McIntosh-Baker, regarding her brother, Lt. Robert McIntosh.

In 1943, McIntosh shipped overseas, where he was a pilot in the United States Air Force, flying a P-38 Lightning fighter plane. On May 12, 1944, he was reported missing after his plane went down while returning to base after a bombing mission.

He was eventually confirmed dead in 1945, and it was expected that his body was lost and would never receive a burial.

Seventy-two years later, he will receive a burial after all, in his home town of Tipton.

Tuesday, around 5:15 p.m., a hearse came down Main Street in Tipton from the south. It was escorted by a couple dozen Indiana Patriot Guard Riders - the thunder of the engines was nearly the only sound in the open air – and various police personnel.

Fire trucks and police cars blocked traffic access to the procession route. People stood along the street, raising small American flags provided by local businesses into the air as the procession came by.

There were enough people to comfortably line each side of the street for blocks. They were respectfully silent.

A long trip home

The story of how McIntosh’s remains made the trip from a crash site in Italy to Tipton started in 2013.

A group of Italian civilians began excavating McIntosh’s crash site, not knowing whose site it was, only that a plane appeared to crash there. In the years since the plane landed in Imola, Italy, the debris and remains had made their way underground.

It was the group’s mission to identify any fallen soldiers that remained unknown.

James Baker, McIntosh’s brother-in-law, said the family was contacted by a source in Tennessee who follows up on stories of this nature and had contact with the group, saying they believed they found McIntosh’s crash site.

“At first I thought it was a scam, because it sounds too good to be true,” said Baker.

He was given a list of various government sources he could contact that could look into the story to verify.

By 2014, Baker said they had enough evidence that they felt confident they had found McIntosh. They found a machine gun with a serial number that matched the one he was issued, they found a bracelet his parents had given him as a gift and they found a bone fragment.

The fragment was tested for DNA along with Jeannine-Baker and another sister, and it showed a match.

From there, they went full speed on the excavation process, finishing in 2015.

Before the site was uncovered, McIntosh was last seen in 1944. He was the last plane in the formation, returning to their base in the southern part of Italy.

Baker said reports show the weather that day was awful, with freezing rain turning into sleet and snow, along with fog, as they flew over the mountains. At some point during the flight back, McIntosh’s plane went down, apparently from the weather.

Forces in the area weren’t sure where the crash site was - for all they knew, he landed in the Adriatic Sea, said Baker.

A story circulated about an Italian priest that would bury the remains of soldiers in unmarked graves to keep them safe from Nazi forces that still occupied the area, a possible story about what ended up happening to the body, but never verified.

Moving forward

News of McIntosh’s death hurt his three sisters and parents deeply.

“Oh my, it was sad. It was very sad. I can’t even begin to explain,” said McIntosh-Baker.

But now, she says the family can put the mystery to rest.

“It’s exciting. We have waited so long, and it’s finally coming to a closure. And we are just so happy,” said McIntosh-Baker. “And my father and mother would really appreciate this.”

The funeral procession ended at Young-Nichols Funeral Home on West Jefferson Street.

A visitation with the family will be from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Tipton High School auditorium, with a funeral afterward. The public is encouraged to attend.

McIntosh will be laid to rest at Fairview Cemetery with full military honors, in his hometown, next to his parents.

Cody Neuenschwander can be reached at 765-454-8570 or by email at cody@kokomotribune.com.

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