Remains of lost fighter pilot returned home, properly buried

Tripp Alyn is visiting Carbondale, Illinois, for the first time, but he says it already feels like home. He’s there on a mission to give his long lost cousin, Maax Hammer Jr., a proper burial.

The first place Alyn went after his plane landed was the Oakland Cemetery to prepare for the funeral.

"It gives me a wonderful sense of family to be here" said Alyn.

Hammer was a member of the 1st American Volunteer Group, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, when his plane crashed in Southeast Asia in 1941. Alyn, who is one of Hammer’s last surviving relatives, spent the past 15 years finding Hammer’s remains.

"Through the American Volunteer Group Historical Association, the historian, and over 50 books written about the AVG, I started to learn more of the facts about Maax," said Alyn.

Tuesday, Hammer was finally laid to rest and given a hero’s send-off by Alyn and local veterans. 

"We’re all brothers, living or dead" said Vietnam Veteran Larry Hamilton. 

Hammer will be laid to rest between his parents, Ruth and Maax Hammer Sr.

Alyn says he feels the experience has brought the past and the present together, and has connected him to his cousin forever.

"I don’t know if he emerged from the cloud cover. I don’t know if he saw the ground coming up, but I feel like I’m in the cockpit with him experiencing that and experiencing his last few seconds of life," said Alyn. 

Alyn is still picking out Hammer’s gravestone, but he says he plans to visit often when it’s in place.

There are still 12 Flying Tigers members whose remains have not been returned. Alyn is working with the federal government to find them and bring them home to their families. 

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