Friends and family pay one last tribute to once missing airman
Written by Jason Epner, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
TIPTON (KWWL) -
Friends and family of an Iowa airman whose death remained a mystery for more than 40 years finally have some answers.
Funeral services were held Saturday Lt. Col. Dennis Eilers' hometown of Tipton.
Christmas Eve 1965 - a day Belva Schamberger received news she never had a chance to brace for.
"He had just sent me a dozen long stem roses from Hawaii. I had just opened them. I was so happy, and within an hour and a half to two hours, our whole lives changed," Schamberger said.
Schamberger's husband Dennis Eilers was in Vietnam with the U.S. Air Force when she received word that his plane was shot down over Laos.
"Denny was a wonderful man, my first love. When he was missing it was pretty overwhelming," Schamberger said.
Eilers, who had dreamed of being a pilot, was listed as Missing In Action for 12 years.
In 1977, the US Air Force changed his status to killed in action, but with no evidence of Eilers or any of his crew members, Schamberger and her two sons were still left with many unanswered questions.
"It was always the question of what happened and where and would they ever find those discoveries?" said Brett Eilers, Dennis' son.
After more than four and a half decades of not knowing, the family finally has some closure.
In April, the Air Force identified the remains and other items as those of Eilers' crew at the recently found crash site.
"Such gratitude that we have for this," Schamberger said.
In a packed church in Eilers' home town of Tipton, friends and family were finally able to pay tribute to a man who sacrificed everything.
Escorted by the Patriot Guard riders, the funeral procession then made its way through Main Street Tipton, with onlookers waving American flags in support.
And then one final tribute with the playing of taps and the symbolic burial at Eilers' grave site at the cemetery southwest of town.
After almost 47 years, family members finally have confirmation of the nature of their father and husband's sacrifice.
"This is the end of those mysteries," Brett Eilers said.
"After 46 and a half years of not knowing, your expectations are not this, but it's just
wonderful," Schamberger said.
Lt. Col. Eilers and the remains of the other crewmen will be honored and laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery on July 9.
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