Homer Spence is now home.
The Manteca High graduate and U.S. Army Air Corps P-38 fighter pilot crashed during World War II in the Italian Alps in 1944.
His remains were recently recovered and identified by the military.
1st Lt. Homer Spence will be laid to rest with full military honors at Park View Cemetery at 10 a.m. Saturday. Manteca veterans are hoping the public will turn out to offer their respect and to show the family that Spence’s sacrifice was appreciated by those who benefitted from the efforts of men and women like him that fought World War II. The cemetery is on French Camp Road north of Manteca less than half a mile west of Highway 99.
Spence also spent two years at Modesto Junior College before joining the Air Corps. He was assigned to the 96th Fighter Squadron, of the 82nd Fighter Group.
Spence, 22 at the time, was flying as a spotter for a bomber squadron and was returning to his base when a wingman reported seeing him slump over his controls flying over Austria and then fall out of formation crashing in a heavily wooded area of Italy.
There was conjecture that he was suffering from a lack of oxygen or from air sickness being one of two P-38 Lightning planes that went down at the same time on July 20 of 1944. Confiscated German records told of finding the body and aircraft of the other pilot but not of Spence who has one living sibling from among the six brothers and sisters who came to Manteca in the early 1940s from Missouri. She is Vi Davis of Ripon.
An honor guard of eight California National Guard soldiers will gather at P.L. Fry & Son Mortuary at 9 a.m. Saturday and escort Spence’s remains to the cemetery where they will also serve as pall bearers. An independent Patriot motorcycle group will be leading the procession to his final resting place.
P.L. Fry staffers met a military plane from Nebraska at the San Jose Airport Wednesday afternoon to receive his remains which were then taken to Tracy for cremation before being transferred to the Manteca mortuary.
Spence penned a letter to his sister Vi in Manteca from the Santa Maria Army Air Field where he was in flight training saying he had only seven more hours of flight time before completing his required time in the air. He told her he hoped that would leave him time to have his tonsils taken out.
“We are flying everywhere but we don’t have much longer here,” he wrote. “Went into Santa Maria Easter Sunday where it was crowded with enlisted men and we celebrated with a steak dinner at the Ranch House – very good too for a boughten steak.”
He went on to tell his sister, “Your first year of high school is nearly through. Really apply yourself and get the most from it. Do not keep yourself from good times but plan your course with two years of junior college. When one gets out in the world you can sure realize the advantage of a good education.”
Signed: “Your loving brother, Homer.”
Spence came to Manteca in the early 1940s with his parents and brothers and sisters in their old Ford with a washing machine tied onto the back of their car. They drove cross country from a small town in Centerview, Missouri. One younger brother, Cliff, also served in the Merchant Marines during WW II.
During Spence’s return flight to Vincenzo, Italy, as the lead pilot, he radioed that he was not feeling well Shortly afterwards he was seen slumping over his controls, apparently becoming unconscious as his plane entered a steep dive disappearing into the clouds.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email email@example.com.