Frozen airman's remains to be buried in Minnesota
BRAINERD, Minn. » The airman whose body was found on a California mountainside more than 60 years after his plane crashed will be buried in this central Minnesota city where he grew up.
The remains of Leo Mustonen, a 1938 Brainerd High School graduate who was 22 years old when he died while preparing to join the World War II effort, will be interred in Evergreen Cemetery, where his Finnish immigrant parents are buried, according to his nieces.
Mustonen's body, found in October in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, was recently identified through DNA tests at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu.
He was with three others on an AT-7 navigational training plane that crashed on Nov. 18, 1942, after leaving Sacramento's Mather Field.
Plans are for a full military escort to Brainerd with services at First Lutheran Church, followed by interment of Mustonen's cremated remains with Anna Mustonen, his mother. The date of the service hasn't been set.
Leane Mustonen Ross, a Jacksonville, Fla., woman and Leo Mustonen's niece, said her uncle could have been buried in Arlington National Cemetery. But Ross, a mother herself who said she understood her grandmother's anguish over losing Leo, said there was no question but to bring him home.
She said it was "certainly nice to know he won't be left alone up in the mountains in a pile of snow. It's good to give him a decent burial."
Besides Ross, Leo Mustonen's relatives include Ross' sister, Ona Lea Mustonen, and their mother, who also live in Florida.
Their relationship with Leo Mustonen changed after climbers found his body encased in ice at the bottom of a glacier, Ross said. Until then, the family had not really talked about him.
"Now," she said, "he is very much a part of our family. He is loved very much and we really feel we've regained a family member."