CHESTER, W.Va. (WTRF) – Rich Horrigan grew up not knowing his father, because his father died a hero. 

U.S. Army Air Force 1st Lieutenant Richard W. Horrigan was killed during World War II; leaving behind his wife and a son he never knew. 

Fast forward many years later to 2018, and to a phone call that brought surprising news for Lieutenant Horrigan’s son. 

Out of the blue comes this call.

Rich Horrigan, Lt. Horrigan’s Son

Rich Horrigan describes that call as a surprise.

It was the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. They had recovered his father’s remains, all these years after a crash took his life.

The initial call requesting an DNA sample of 2018, and Lt. Horrigan was officially identified in 2021.

It feels really great actually. It’s been overwhelming, especially since I never actually knew him, so I kind of filed him away as almost mythical.

Rich Horrigan, Lt. Horrigan’s Son

1st Lt. Richard W. Horrigan was killed in April of 1945, two months before his son was born. The 24-year-old from Chester, West Virginia was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force.

He was a pilot with the 22nd Fighter Squadron, 36th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, flying a reconnaissance mission to Alt Lönnewitz Airfield in Germany when his fighter crashed due to enemy fire.

According to Lt. Horrigan’s wingman, on the last strafing run, the wingman saw Lt. Horrigan strafing aircraft that were parked in the woods. They were hiding. Then on the last run he looked out and he saw an explosion and the ground and Lt.  Horrigan didn’t return. So, it was assumed that he was shot down and crashed at the airfield.

Jim Bell, Identification Specialist, U.S. Army

After the war, the American Graves Registration Command was tasked with recovering remains of fallen service members, but the site of that crash behind enemy lines would make it difficult to bring Lieutenant Horrigan home for many years. This was due to the United State’s relationship with the Soviet Union and the division of East and West Germany.

Bell said in the early 1950s a German national, reportedly working with the U.S. military, spoke to the locals to see if any soldiers had been buried in the town nearest to the crash site.

Often times what would happen is locals would bury soldiers, often Americans, in their local cemeteries. So, in this case, there was no evidence of a burial.

He talked to some locals that saw the air battle take place and what happened was when the air battle took place, some of the locals said there was a big explosion.

Jim Bell, Identification Specialist, U.S. Army

In 1953, Lt. Horrigan was declared non-recoverable and put on what’s called the deferred search list.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the DPAA tried again.

Even still it took more time and help from other organizations like History Flight, Inc. This civilian group was contracted by the DPAA to help bring remains back to the United States for DNA testing so their identities can be confirmed.

There’s a tenant in the Army that we follow ‘no one left behind’. We still follow that. The fact that all these people are still focused on finding these guys and bringing them back is pretty special.

Jim Bell, Identification Specialist, U.S. Army

Rich Horrigan said he and his mother lived in Chester when he was a child, then moved to Arizona. His mother never spoke much about his father until later in life.

She didn’t really talk him about him much. I knew obviously he was killed in the war, but I didn’t ask all that much and we didn’t really talk about him much until my 25th high school reunion.

She showed me a bunch of old pictures. We had a long tearful chat about him. Actually the first time we’d ever talked about him in any great length and I knew that she missed him.

Rich Horrigan, Lt. Horrigan’s Son

His mother never remarried, and now Rich is able to get to know his father, years after his passing, thanks to the information provided by the DPAA.

The agency provided him with a detailed booklet containing his father’s service records, photographs and details about how exactly Lt. Horrigan was recovered.

It feels really good to actually meet him. I’ve gone back and looked over all these family pictures. I’ve reconnected with a cousin from that side and I’ve connected for the first time with a cousin from that side who’s actually the only person I think alive who actually knew my father. He’s 12-years younger than my father and remembers things about my father.

Rich Horrigan, Lt. Horrigan’s Son

Lt. Horrigan will be laid to rest, alongside his wife, with full military honors in Chester this summer.

I’m just so amazed and so impressed with the agencies that they keep these records, keep revising and go back and find our people.

Rich Horrigan, Lt. Horrigan’s Son

U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Richard W. Horrigan was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, American Campaign Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, WWII Victory Medal and a Purple Heart for his service.