NEW YORK (PIX11) – A pilot who died when his plane was shot down during World War II will finally return home to New York to be buried next month, nearly 80 years after his death.

The remains of U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. John B. Thomas, of Rochester, New York, were finally identified in September of 2022, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Thursday.

Thomas was 23 years old when he was assigned to the 345th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 9th Air Force in the summer of 1943. Thomas flew a B-24 Liberator bomber during Operation TIDAL WAVE, which was the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries in Ploiesti, Romania.

Thomas was killed during Operation TIDAL WAVE when his plane was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed on Aug. 1, 1943, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

In total, 177 B-24 Liberators took off from air bases in Libya for the raid in Operation TIDAL WAVE. Thomas’ Liberator, nicknamed the “Aire Lobo,” was one of 51 planes that didn’t return. Hundreds of airmen died in the mission, which was ultimately successful in damaging the oil refineries.

Thomas’ remains were not identified following the war and were buried along with the unknowns at the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan in Ploiesti.

After the war, the American Graves Registration Command, which was the organization that searched for U.S. personnel killed during the war, dug up all the American remains from the Bolovan cemetery for identification. Still, Thomas’ remains were unable to be identified and were then interred at a cemetery in Belgium.

In 2017, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began exhuming the remains of unknowns believed to be associated with the unaccounted airmen killed during Operation TIDAL WAVE.

Thomas’ remains were brought to a laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where they were finally identified in September 2022. Scientists used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence, to identify Thomas, authorities said.

Thomas will be buried in North Rose, New York, on May 20, 2023.

Thomas was also memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery in Impruneta, Italy. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has now been accounted for, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said.