Family preps memorial service for World War II pilot who disappeared 74 years ago

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A local family is preparing a memorial service for a World War II pilot 74 years after he disappeared.

First Lt. Francis Pitonyak disappeared during a flight mission on Oct. 28, 1943, and the Army declared Pitonyak dead that day. He was accounted for on Dec. 20, 2016.

Pityonyak's relatives, who live in the Charlotte area, opened up to Channel 9 about the discovery that brought them closure they have waited on for decades.

Evan Calott admires family heirlooms, like his uncle’s wings and dog tags, but he never expected to see.

Calott never met his uncle Frank.

But Pitonyak’s person personal items, including a wedding ring, watch and more even made it back to his family after weathering 70 years in the elements.

"It's pretty amazing to know that so many years ago one of your relatives who ended up making the ultimate sacrifice for us all carried these things with him,” Calott said.

Pitonyak, a fighter pilot, led a mission on Oct. 28, 1943.

Because of bad weather, one of the pilots aborted the mission and reported the other three pilots, including Pitonyak, missing.

The Army declared Pitonyak dead on that day, but for decades, he was listed as missing in action.

"I always told my grandmother that I wanted to be a pilot to go look for uncle Frank, and I in fact did. I spent 33 years with the airlines,” Calott said.

In 1987, a team of investigators found Pitonyak's aircraft wreckage in Papua New Guinea.

Then, last summer a recovery team found his dental remains, bringing closure his family didn't know they would ever get.

"It was amazing,” Calott said. “It was amazing. It was over 70 years from the time he was lost that they actually found his remains."

Pitonyak's family in Charlotte and around the country are planning a funeral with help of the Department of Defense at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

"It's pretty exciting that he was found and they're going to bring him home,” Calott said.

There are still more than 73,000 Americans unaccounted for from World War II.

Pitonyak's name is one of those thousands on the Walls of the Missing at an American Battle Monuments Commission site.

A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.