Passengers on Friday’s Southwest Airlines Flight from Las Vegas watched intently as a casket smartly draped with the Stars & Stripes slowly rolled down a conveyor belt to a waiting honor guard.
As a courtesy to a deceased war hero returning home, passengers remained on the plane, some with their faces pressed against the starboard windows, others using their hands to wipe away a tear. The plane’s captain left the cockpit to join the family and military personnel on the ramp at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport before an honor guard from the Nevada Army National Guard carried the casket with snap precision from flight 1782 to a waiting hearse.
The remains belong to Army 2nd Lt. Lowell S. Twedt, they were recovered in 2017 and identified last year.
Twedt’s only son, William Twedt, was at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Friday as the remains arrived.
Twedt said the assistance he has received from Capt. Justin Klatt of the Nevada Guard during the planning and execution stages has been “phenomenal.”
Having his father return home has a special meaning for the Twedt family and others whose relatives fought in World War II. The young lieutenant’s arrival and military service come weeks before the nation remembers the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 14, 1945. The emperor surrendered after U.S. B-29 Superfortress bombers dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, and the formal Instrument of Surrender occurred on Sept. 2 aboard the USS Missouri.
Second Lt. Twedt, who was shot down over northern Italy on Oct. 20 1944, arrived in Reno shortly before 7 p.m. on a flight that originated earlier in the day from Omaha, Neb. An Army second lieutenant accompanied his casket to Reno.
William Lowell Twedt was only 5 years old when enemy anti-aircraft fire near Lozano, Italy, shot down his father’s P-38J Lightning and two others. They were providing an escort for B-17 bombers on a mission to bomb oil storage tanks in the Bavarian city of Regensberg, northeast of Munich on the banks of the Danube River. Twedt said three pilots, members of the 71st Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Group, crashed in the snowy, rugged Italian Alps north of Lozano, and an eyewitness failed to see any ejections. He expressed mixed thoughts about waiting for his father after so many years of him missing in action.
“I knew that he couldn’t possibly be alive after so many years,” Twedt said, who was accompanied at the airport by his wife and his younger son’s family. “I’m not despondent over that. I’m just glad he’s here and that we can give him a resting place. It’s really neat that I can have him here somewhere near.”
Twedt said he also has a daughter and son-in-law who live in Iowa and two other sons who reside in the Reno area.
After decades of the unknown, a break occurred more than two years ago. A retired Austrian physics instructor, who found the wreckage of a P-38 on the north face of Kirchnock near the Italian resort town of Aberstuckl, had a gut feeling it was Twedt’s plane. The Austrian professor contacted the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha to alert the DPAA of his discovery. The DPAA sent a team to the Alps to excavate the site, and in September 2019, they recovered the aviators.
“They also found the other pilots’ buried remains,” Twedt said. “They went into the village and received some information. It’s quite something — you don’t leave anyone behind.”
In addition to finding the remains, the DPAA searchers also discovered some material evidence such as pieces from the uniform, survival gear, boots and laces, watch component and band, buttons and fragments of a holster and pistol belt. Twedt said it appears his father crashed in about 10 feet of snow at a higher elevation, and the DPAA research crew found a full skeleton. Twedt thinks the locals found the body and buried it before the Germans discovered the bodies.
“Seventy-five years .. it’s amazing they found him,” Twedt remarked.
DPAA requested DNA samples from Twedt, and the agency used dental records in its quest to identify the pilot. On Dec. 11, 2019, the DPAA identified the remains as those of Lt. Twedt’s. Contrary to government records, Twedt said his father was born in 1917 and was only 27 years old when he was shot down
Since he finished flight school for the Army Air Force in the early 1940s, Lowell Twedt gained a reputation for being a skilled pilot. Army brass wanted to keep him as an instructor, but the lieutenant had other plans — he wanted to join the war effort and fly overseas. Born in Le Grand, Iowa, he enlisted in the military in 1942 in San Diego, Calif. According to Twedt, his father attended training in Alabama, Washington State, Texas and San Diego.
Although many years have passed since Twedt was only a toddler, he distinctly remembers his dad always wearing brown shoes. He also has memories of their home in Alabama, where his father completed his Army officer training. When his father left for Europe, Twedt said the family remained in San Diego, where his grandfather had a big orange orchard. The family relocated to Reno in 1945.
The Twedt family originally moved from their Iowa farm to Southern California in the 1920s. It was in high school where Lowell met his future wife, and they only had one child.
Bill Twedt attended schools in Reno and also the University of Washington. He joined the Marine Corps in 1957 for almost seven months but afterward enlisted in the Oregon Army National Guard. When he returned to Reno, he transferred to the Nevada Army National Guard, serving a total of seven-and-a-half years in the military. Over the years, Twedt worked in the gaming industry in Reno and Las Vegas before retiring.
Brig. Gen. Zachary Doser, the Nevada Guard’s Land Component commander, said by recognizing this aviator, Doser said it’s a fitting way to remember the country’s Greatest Generation as coined by author and newscaster Tom Brokaw.
“We are celebrating the return of Lowell Twedt’s remains from a distant battlefield,” Doser said. “It’s just a remarkable story of how they recovered his body and ultimately returned it home.”
William Twedt said many people had high regards for his father.
“They found a good pilot, but they wanted to make him an instructor for a while, but he finally got to go overseas,” Twedt said, thanking those who arranged the welcome home despite the coronavirus pandemic.
When asked what it meant to have his father in Reno, Twedt thought for a minute, trying to come up with the right words.
“Welcome home,” he said glancing upward. “Now he’s in the wild, blue yonder.”