STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (WTRF) – It will be a homecoming decades in the making. Years after he was killed during World War II, Technical Sergeant William F. Teaff is finally coming home.
The recovery of the Steubenville native’s remains took nearly 80-years, but in a way the timing was perfect because it comes just as his granddaughters were trying to learn about the grandfather they never knew.
To Michelle Lesutis and and Amy Sleeman, their grandfather was a man in a black and white photograph.
He was still this kind of mysterious unsung hero to us.Amy Sleeman, Sergeant Teaff’s Granddaughter
A hero, they knew little about, until a letter came in the mail.
It was sort of explaining who they were and had his name on it. I was like there’s so much spam out here are you telling me they got a hold of his name? I was a little skeptical, but the military insignia was on there and I was like ‘that looks very valid. I’m gonna give them a call’.Amy Sleeman, Sergeant Teaff’s Granddaughter
That letter from the Department of Repatriation happened to come at the same time Michelle was looking deeper into their grandfather’s history.
I remember my heart pounding and I was like in disbelief.Amy Sleeman, Sergeant Teaff’s Granddaughter
The letter and the phone call lead to the story of the heroics of their grandfather, Army Air Force Technical Sergeant William F. Teaff.
I’m just in awe. I don’t even know the words to say. It’s just an amazing story.Michelle Lesutis, Sergeant Teaff’s Granddaughter
26-year-old Sergeant Teaff was a member of the 351st Bombardment Squadron, 100th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force.
In early 1944, he was a radio operator on a B-17 called the “Lucky Lee” flying a mission to bomb targets in Berlin when his plane was hit.
The mission over Berlin, this was a specially tough one. We took a lot of losses. The German fighters were in great numbers and they pounded on the Lucky Lee. The conditions of the bomber when they hit, as I read the historical report, was pretty rough.Jim Bell, Identifications Specialist, U.S. Army
Our grandfather, we found out had 11-14 missions. Just to go up in that plane and come back down, go up in that plane and come back down, I mean, how the heck do you do that? I just don’t know.Michelle Lesutis, Sergeant Teaff’s Granddaughter
According to the Defense/POW MIA accounting agency, Sergeant Teaff parachuted out of the plane, but he and several others were taken prisoner by the Germans.
It was there that he died in July of 1944 while being treated for diphtheria at a medical facility in the town near the POW camp.
Sergeant Teaff left behind his wife and a daughter who wasn’t even three-years-old, Patricia. She was Michelle and Amy’s mother.
I felt like she didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe she had never really talked to her Mom about him.Michelle Lesutis, Sergeant Teaff’s Granddaughter
It’s so astonishing to me that these men would go up in these planes and go up in these fleets, thousands of planes up in the air, knowing that they may not come back.Michelle Lesutis, Sergeant Teaff’s Granddaughter
Sergeant Teaff was buried with honors by his German captors. He was one of three American POWs to die at that camp.
With survivor accounts and well-kept records, the United States knew where his remains were, but couldn’t get there.
As the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency explains, that area was deep inside of Soviet Union territory, in what is modern-day Lithuania.
The former prisoner of war camp later became a prison for political prisoners of the Soviet Union. Then in 1992 when Lithuania gained their independence from the Soviet Union, things changed a bit.Jim Bell, Identifications Specialist, U.S. Army
Sergeant Teaff was declared “non-recoverable” in 1954.
That prison camp was destroyed and converted into farmland. However, in the early 2000s, officials were able to begin investigating the sight where they believed Americans were buried. The DPAA partnered with Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc and eventually was able to successfully identify Sergeant Teaff.
Now that he’s been recovered, Amy and Michelle can lay their grandfather to rest and pass on a new part of the family history to their children.
It’s a neat family. I think I kind of shocked them when I gave them the news, but they’ve been fun to work with.Jim Bell, Identifications Specialist, U.S. Army
As with all cases, the DPAA was able to give Michelle and Amy an extensive book about their grandfather’s military service. In it are telegrams to his family, photos of his burial in Germany, all the records kept during his capture and much more about the “Lucky Lee”.
I think it brings a new significance to historical events like WWII. I want the kids to really understand what that meant and that these were real people. The things that they did for our country and that servicemen and women continue to do for our country are so important. It has meaning. These people that have lose their lives, it’s so important what they do for our country.Amy Sleeman, Sergeant Teaff’s Granddaughter
Michelle and Amy are still deciding where to lay their grandfather to rest, but he will be buried with the full military honors he deserves.