NewsHonoring Our Fallen: Memorial Day 2022

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WWII hero finally returns home to Texas after nearly 80 years

Lt. Louis Girard
Posted at 7:58 PM, May 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-31 14:32:43-04

WEST, Texas — It's been nearly 80 years since a Central Texas family lost one of its bravest members going off to fight Nazi Germany in World War II.

For 88-year-old Helen Pomykal of Rosebud, Texas, her family never felt the same after losing her brother in the war.

"My last letter to him, I have it. He said to me, 'Are you enjoying your vacation? Why don't you come see me?'," Pomykal said. "He said, 'I'll take you flying on my plane.'"

Among the thousands of teenagers sent off to war in the years after Pearl Harbor was 20-year-old Louis Girard of West, Texas.

"They wanted to protect the United States. It was really important to them," Pomykal said.

B-24 Liberator 'Blackjack'
The B-24 Liberator "Blackjack" that 1st Lt. Louis Girard flew as co-pilot during WWII. The plane had a malfunction from the sands of North Africa the morning of the air raid. Army Air Forces command assigned Girard to the B-24 "Satans Hellcats" for what would be his final mission.

Girard flew a B-24 Liberator in the 68th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 44th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force.

The Army airman gave up schooling at Texas A&M university to enroll in flight school over the border in Canada.

"He had high expectations of coming home and it just didn't happen that way," Pomykal said about her brother's death.

The Allies launched Operation Tidal Wave in August of 1943 hoping to strike at Ploiesti, Romania, some of the richest oil fields in Europe seized by the Nazis.

"It hurts. But he was doing what he loved," she said.

Helen never had a chance to say goodbye to her brother.

Obituary of Lt. Louis Girard
Newspaper obituary for the 20-year-old Army airman killed above the skies of Ploesti, Romania during Operation Tidal Wave in August 1943.

"They didn't have him in a grave... or they had him in a grave with another unknown soldier that died on that plane," Pomykal said.

The family believed for decades Louis' body lay in an American military cemetery in Italy, but Army officials said his body never left the eastern European country.

"They sent the DNA samples to my sister in Dallas, and then to me and we filled it out and that was about three years ago," Pomykal said.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) said in May 2022 that samples taken of Louis' family members came back a match for remains found in Romania.

Lt. Louis Girard's body finally came back home to Texas on Friday after spending 79 years overseas.

"We're happy and excited for the family," Tim Payne, funeral director and owner of Aderhold Funeral Home, said about the upcoming memorial service for the airman. "Especially his sister Helen who finally gets to bring her brother home and lay him to rest properly. So we're really excited for her and honored to be a part of it."

The people of West came out in droves on Friday night to give Louis a hero's homecoming that never happened.

But letters sent home during the war keep his memory alive for Helen and her family – reading the last letter sent home from North Africa before the air raid.

The hero's final farewell is scheduled for June 4, 2022 at 10 a.m. with a graveside service to be held at St. Mary's cemetery in West, Texas.

Click here if you would like to send flowers or plant a tree in his memory.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story named the funeral director and owner of Aderhold Funeral Home as Thomas Payne. His name is Tim Payne.