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World War II hero finally returns home

CLOSURE — Dr. Richard Horrigan displays the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded in honor of his father’s service during World War II. First Lt. Richard William Horrigan, a native of Chester, died after being shot down over Germany. His remains would not be found until 2019. -- Craig Howell

CHESTER — It was a long-overdue homecoming, Sunday, as the remains of First Lt. Richard William Horrigan were laid to rest in his hometown.

Horrigan, 24, was a pilot with the 22nd Fighter Squadron, 36th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force during World War II. A native of Chester, he was a 1938 graduate of Chester High School and had worked at Taylor, Smith and Taylor prior to being inducted into the military in June 1942 and receiving his commission in May 1944.

According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Horrigan was flying a P-47D Thunderbolt on April 19, 1945 as part of an armed reconnaissance mission to the Alt Lonnewitz Airfield in Germany, crashing, most likely as a result of anti-aircraft fire, while strafing enemy planes at the airfield.

He would be declared dead in November 1945, although a full investigation of the crash site could not begin until 2017, with his remains found in 2019.

Sunday afternoon, prior to a private service at the Arner Funeral Home, Horrigan’s son, Dr. Richard Horrigan, a retired anesthesiologist living in San Francisco, spoke about the process of finally being able to bring his father home.

Dr. Horrigan noted he never knew his father, only hearing stories from his mother and other family members while growing up.

“It’s for her,” he said. “I’m very, very happy to finally have this closure.”

Dr. Horrigan explained, when his father’s remains were found, he and two other relatives were contacted about providing DNA samples to confirm preliminary forensic results which relied on dental records and other tests.

First Lt. Horrigan would officially be accounted for in August 2021, with the findings made public in February.

Dr. Horrigan noted he was given the option of having his father’s remains buried at Arlington National Cemetery, among generations of heroes from the nation’s military, but he chose to have him brought back to Chester.

“I thought it was appropriate to bring him home and inter him next to my mother,” he said.

Dorothy Conklin Horrigan died in 2007.

Noting there are tens of thousands of stories like his, Dr. Horrigan expressed relief to have the answers his family sought for so long, and encouraged others in the same situation to not give up hope.

“People still care,” he said. “It still can happen for them.”

The family offered its thanks to History Flight Inc., which conducted much of the search.

While at the funeral home Sunday, Dr. Horrigan displayed the Distinguished Flying Cross which had been awarded in honor of his father’s service. The family also was presented with an American flag, flown over the U.S. Capitol at the request of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Following the service, the family was escorted along Carolina Avenue by members of the West Virginia Patriot Guard, the Legion Riders, Boy Scout Troop 12, representatives of the Chester Police Department, Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, West Virginia State Police and area volunteer fire departments. A private burial, including full military honors, was held at Locust Hill Cemetery.

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