ARLINGTON, Virginia, Oct. 11, 2017 —
When World War II ended, 1st Lt. George W. Betchley of Yonkers, New York, was included among the roster of more than 83,000 U.S. service members listed as missing in action. But as Betchley is laid to rest later this week in Florida, he will be remembered as an American hero and as the central figure of a viral video made more than 70 years after he gave his life for his country.
His long journey home began in the waning days of World War II. Betchley, who was declared missing in action on March 22, 1945, was only 20 years old when the B-17 he was in was shot down by German fighters near Janówek, Poland. Eight of the ten crewmembers were not recovered, including Betchley. In 1948, the American Graves Registration Command recovered a set of remains from the cemetery at Janówek that they were not able to identify, and interred them at the United States Military Cemetery Neuville-en-Condroz, in Belgium, where they laid for nearly 70 years.
In 2016, unbeknownst to Betchley’s family and the rest of the world, he became part of a viral video phenomenon. On July 7, 2016, after thorough historical and scientific analysis, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency disinterred the unknown remains from the Neuville cemetery and sent the remains to their laboratory in Hawaii for analysis. While remains are frequently returned to the United States for analysis, Diane Hollifield Cupp filmed not only the remains of the still-unknown service member’s return to the mainland, but also the Iowa Ambassadors of Music Choir singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic for the Airman.
Cupp, who was returning from Germany, had spent the previous two weeks touring concentration camps, American cemeteries and other World War II monuments, putting the loss of these heroes fresh in her mind. She wasn’t supposed to be on that flight, she said, however a twist of fate led them to flying home later than scheduled.
“We landed in Atlanta to change planes, and they made an announcement over the intercom that the remains of a World War II hero were on board,” said Cupp. “As this was happening, all these teenagers started singing. I had no idea it would go viral.”
Betchley was recently identified by DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System through mitochondria (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome (Y-STR) DNA analysis, which matched several cousins, as well as through dental and anthropological analysis.
This summer, his name made news as he was identified as the serviceman who had been honored just a year earlier by the Iowa choir and Cupp, of Johnson City, Tennessee.
“I was contacted by his niece who lives in New York,” said Cupp. “It melted my heart.”
Cupp, who was invited to attend Betchley’s funeral in Clearwater, Florida, this weekend spoke through tears.
“I am very honored and I’m so proud of our fallen hero and the sacrifices he made to ensure our freedom,” she said.
To watch the viral video, visit
To see the full release on Betchley’s loss and identification, visit http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/1338980/funeral-announcement-for-airman-missing-from-world-war-ii-betchley-g/