Family grateful to bury serviceman, MIA for 76 years

Over 200 family members and friends gathered in Lewiston on Saturday to honor a military serviceman who had been missing in action for 76 years.

Sgt. Max Wendell Lower was buried in the Lewiston Cemetery with full military honors and a helicopter flyover on Saturday afternoon, two days after his remains were flown into the Salt Lake International Airport.

Lower was 23 when he was listed as missing in action during Operation Tidal Wave — a U.S. Army Air Forces strike on oil fields in Romania in 1943 during World War II. Max served as a radioman and waist gunner during the operation. For years, Max’s family lived with the uncertainty of what happened to him.

For Helen Lower Simmons, Max’s younger sister, finally bringing Max home brings closure to the family.

“I dreamed once that he was floating down the Suez Canal, going south,” Simmons said. “It wasn’t possessing, but it was there.”

The family had heard bits and pieces of what may have been — Helen said her mother chased any fragment of information regarding her eldest son for years. Helen said the family was told Max’s plane — a B-24 Liberator with “Old Baldy” scrawled underneath a depiction of the national bird — flew over the target in Romania but never emerged.

In 2009, however, new information came to light. The family discovered that someone was privy to Old Baldy’s fate.

“There had been an eyewitness,” Helen said. “It (Old Baldy) did, indeed, get over the oil fields.”

Helen said a monk was walking down a lane in Romania and saw the 88-millimeter weapons that surrounded the oil field and Max’s bomber. The monk witnessed Old Baldy drop from the sky after being shot through the nose nearly 30 feet off the ground. The Monk recognized the name of the plane and the image of the bald eagle.

Helen said the remains of service members were handled by the Romanian government. The bodies were treated with respect and buried as if they were their own — something Helen found remarkable.

“These people were very compassionate,” Helen said.

Years later, the U.S. government exhumed the remains and placed them in Belgium. In 2017, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began disinterring the remains of those believed to be linked to Operation Tidal Wave. Helen said she was contacted by a military genealogist regarding a DNA sample. Helen and her younger brother submitted buccal swabs to the genealogist and were notified days later of the positive match for Max’s remains.

For Helen, she’s pleased to finally bring her brother home and the countrymen standing by “no man left behind.”

“I’m excited, and I’m grateful,” Helen said. “I’m just overwhelmed.”

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