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Laid to rest in SR

A Santa Rosa Air Force pilot, missing since his plane was shot down over North Korea more than five decades ago, was buried Saturday with full military honors.
"It's a homecoming," said Shirley Romalia of Sacramento, who was given the American flag that was draped over the coffin of her brother, 1st Lt. Alvin E. Crane Jr.

The service included a color guard from Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, a three-volley salute, a flyover of F-16s from Edwards Air Force Base near Lancaster, and a bugler playing taps.

It was a fitting ceremony, Air Force Chaplain John Muth said.

"Alvin E. Crane Jr. was a hero," said Muth, who read off the seven medals awarded posthumously, including the Purple Heart. "His legacy does not end here, but continues on."

The service was attended by about 150 people, including family, friends and military veterans from as far back as World War II.

"I just came out to pay my respects," said Mike McGovern, who served in the Navy during the Korean War. "Korea was a nasty place, it's kind of a forgotten war. This is one they can take off the missing-in-action rolls."

Crane had moved with his family to Santa Rosa in 1946 from Tule Lake, where they lived near a Japanese internment camp.

"As a young teen he would lie in the grass and watch the planes come and go," said Tim Maloney of Santa Rosa. "That was where his love of flying was born."

Shortly after moving to Santa Rosa, Crane joined the Army Air Corps, where he learned to fly. He transferred to the newly formed Air Force to fly jets and was ordered overseas.

"I remember the night he left, us hugging him and begging him not to go," said his brother, Art Crane of Spokane, Wash., who was 8 at the time. "That is the last I remember."

Crane was a "Mosquito" pilot, flying an AT-6 propeller-driven observation plane, which flew low over enemy territory, often inviting heavy ground fire, so its crew could identify targets for the higher-flying jet aircraft.

"It was scary as hell," said Steve Rooney of Sacramento, a Mosquito pilot who attended the service. "We flew as low as we could as fast as we could."

Crane, 22, and his back-seat observer, Army Sgt. Gordon J. Zorn, were shot down Sept. 13, 1951, near Uijongbu, according to the Air Force.

Zorn died in the plane and his body was recovered later when the U.S. front lines moved past the crash site, but Crane parachuted to safety and was seen running away.

What happened after is a mystery. His skeletal remains are complete and show no obvious indication of how or when he died. And there is no record of his capture by North Korea or China or any report by other U.S. prisoners of war.

In 1990, the North Koreans returned his remains, with his flight jacket, which they said were found in 1987, about 20 miles from the crash site.

It took advances in DNA testing and 16 years before Crane's remains were identified last fall by the U.S. military in Hawaii.

Romalia said their mother, Lois Crane, who died two years ago, never gave up hope that her son was alive. As a gesture, Romalia said the family chose Saturday for the burial service because it also was her mother's birthday.

Besides his sister and brother Art, Crane was survived by another brother, Floyd Crane of Santa Rosa, and two grandsons. He was married while he was in the service and had a son. His wife and son have died, family members said.

The service Saturday was closure for the family, even though they had long ago accepted his fate.

"Our sad part was many, many years ago, in 1951 when his plane went down, in 1953 when they had the repatriation and he wasn't on the list, and in 1953 when the military listed him as killed in action," Romalia said.

Still, Art Crane said, "there's been so many years of wondering where he was, it's so wonderful to have him here."

As the casket was lowered into the grave, Art's wife, Mary, in a final gesture blew Alvin Crane Jr. a kiss and whispered a final goodbye.

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