Man with ties to 82nd TRW lineage to be laid to rest

P-38 Lightnings over Italy

A formation of P-38 Lightnings from the 82nd Fighter Group's 96th Fighter Squadron fly over Italy in this 1944. (U.S. Air Force photo)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

An Airman with ties to the 82nd Training Wing’s lineage will be laid to rest Nov. 18, more than 73 years after his P-38J crashed during a mission that targeted Memmingen Airdrome in southern Germany.

First Lt. Homer A. Spence, a pilot in the 82nd Fighter Group’s 96th Fighter Squadron, will be buried in his hometown of Manteca, Calif., a news release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said.

Spence was 22 years old on July 20, 1944, when the 96th FS was escorting bombers. On the return flight to their base in southern Italy, the Army Air Corps lieutenant’s aircraft went into a steep dive into the clouds, and Spence was never heard from again.

The Army and allies were unable to search for the downed pilot because the area in which he went down was still under enemy control.

The DPAA was contacted in September 2010 by a private researcher with information regarding possible P-38 wreckage near Bruneck, Italy, which is just south of the country’s northern border with Austria. It was determined that Spence’s P-38 was the only aircraft of its type to have gone down within about 30 miles of the crash site.

A team went to the site in April 2012 “and identified a wide debris field of aircraft wreckage,” the release said. Recovery teams went back to the crash site in September 2015 and again in September and October 2016 and collected remains and personal equipment.

More remains and evidence were recovered in August through a combined effort of the DPAA and Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, Inc.

Through DNA testing, the DPAA was able to verify the remains were those of Spence.

The 82nd Fighter Group was deactivated in 1945 when the war in Europe ended. The group was reactivated in April 1947 at Grenier Field, New Hampshire, as a training base for long-range fighter and fighter escort operations. Later that year, the 82nd FG was renamed the 82nd Fighter Wing with the 82nd FG as a subordinate group.

The wing was inactivated in October 1949 and was then redesignated as the 82nd Flying Training Wing at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, in February 1973. The mission of the wing was to conduct undergraduate pilot training in T-37 and T-38 aircraft. Williams AFB was also the location of a test program that put 10 women in pilot training Class 77-08.

A Base Realignment and Closure round in the early 1990s resulted in Williams AFB closing down and the wing being inactivated in March 1993. But, the 82nd didn’t sit idle for long as the Air Force redesignated the unit as the 82nd Training Wing. Sheppard AFB was named the 82nd TRW’s home, replacing the former Sheppard Training Center.