Fallen WWII veteran finally comes home to North Texas 80 years after being killed in action

The family of 2nd Lieutenant David M. Lewis waited decades for their long-lost hero to make it home.

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It's a homecoming 80 years in the making.

Last year, NBC 5 covered a remarkable story about a North Texas family who learned what happened to their relative who went missing in action during World War II.

On Friday, the family of 2nd Lieutenant David M. Lewis finally welcomed him home in a special ceremony with honors at DFW Airport.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s sad that we lost him," said Vivian Dennis-Monzingo, 2nd Lieutenant Lewis' first cousin and closest living relative.

They have waited decades for their long-lost hero to make it home.

"We wanted to honor all veterans. So many of them gave their lives to the war, and others, all their life they’ve lived with the war,” said Dennis-Monzingo.


2nd Lieutenant Lewis, son of Ruby Mae Dennis and David Middleton Lewis, was born August 5, 1922.  At just 19 years old, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a Private on January 8, 1942, and served with the 345th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) - 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy) - 9th Air Force during World War II.

On August 1, 1943, four days before his 21 birthday, 2nd Lieutenant Lewis was killed while participating in Operation TIDAL WAVE, a bombing raid against the oil refineries around Ploiesti, Romania.  American, Soviet, and British leaders supported an unprecedented low-altitude strike against oil refineries at Ploiesti.  On August 1, 1943, 177 B-24 Liberators, carrying 1,725 American airmen from five different bombardment groups departed from airfields near Benghazi, Libya. 

“It was a very, very treacherous operation,” said Dennis-Monzingo, who was 5 years old when Lt. Lewis died but spent her life learning about him from declassified documents provided by the U.S. Army. “It was 51 B24s planes that went down that day.”

2nd Lieutenant Lewis was the co-pilot of one of the 51 B-24 Liberators. Of those, 29 crashed or were forced down away from target, while 22 fell in Ploiesti or the immediate vicinity.  The War Department concluded that 225 airmen perished during Operation TIDAL WAVE.  Following the operation, the Romanian government reported they had recovered and buried 216 Americans killed in the raid, 27 of whom were identified.  The rest were buried by Romanian citizens as unknowns in a cemetery in Ploiesti.

After World War II, The American Graves Registration Command recovered dozens of unidentified remains believed to belong to casualties from August 1, 1943.  AGRC transported the remains from the Romanian cemetery to U.S. military cemeteries in Belgium and extensive forensic analysis ultimately identified all but about 80 remains from the Bolovan Cemetery. Those that could not be identified were reinterred in Ardennes and Henri-Chapelle, American Cemeteries in Belgium.

Approval was granted in 2017 for a pilot project to exhume 15 unknowns associated with the TIDAL WAVE loss.  In 2018, the DPAA requested and later received approval to disinter another 71 Operation TIDAL WAVE unknowns.  The remains were transferred to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. 

In May 2022, approximately 80% of his remains were identified through extensive DNA testing performed at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. That’s when he was officially and finally accounted for.

“It's a sense of peace and calm. Something we wanted. It was so long that we didn’t know,” said Dennis-Monzingo, who added what pains the family the most is knowing his grieving parents never got to witness his homecoming.


A casualty assistance officer with Fort Cavazos traveled up from Killeen to support the family throughout the memorial services this weekend.

“It’s very important for us to bring our family members home no matter how much time has passed. I know I would appreciate it if it was my family member,” said Officer Gwendolyn Bastian. “We’re a family. Her loss is our loss. Her gain is our gain. We’re on a mission now to make sure we’re giving our families closure.”

Dozens of motorcyclists with Patriot Guard Riders also showed their support for Lt. Lewis, escorting his remains on the long two-hour drive to his final resting place in Sulphur Springs. That’s where he will be laid to rest alongside his mother and many relatives.

"We attend services for fallen soldiers, veterans and first responders," said Jeffrey Whike with Patriot Guard Riders. "The families are very honored that there are people that are honoring his service of what he did for our country."

2nd Lieutenant Lewis’ family hopes their story inspires others still waiting for their heroes to return home.

“We’re so thankful to have him home. And that is a homecoming,” said Dennis-Monzingo. “Our best wishes to all the families who are still looking for their loved ones to come home."

Funeral services are being held on Saturday morning at West Oaks Funeral Home. Dr. Megan Ingvoldstad – the military scientist who helped identify 2nd Lieutenant Lewis and bring his family closure – will be one of many guest speakers at his funeral.

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