Captain Arthur Halfpapp (born in 1921) was my Dad’s uncle and hence my great-uncle. My Dad, Jack Sipe, Sr was born in 1939. When “Uncle Archie” as he was known to family, enlisted in the Army Air Corps during WWII, my Dad was only 4 years old. He remembered Uncle Archie well and told my two brothers and me stories of his family trips to Steelton, PA to visit his Grandmother, his aunts and Uncle Archie. While Archie was training he frequently corresponded with home, often writing letters to my grandmother. When Archie came home on leave while still stateside, my Dad would always go along up to Steelton to see Uncle Archie. One of his last memories of Archie was when he gave my Dad some money and sent him to the store to buy him some cigarettes.
Captain Halfpapp was deployed to North Africa first, flying a P-47 Thunderbolt. Later he was sent to Europe, specifically to fight against the Italians. After fifty successful missions, he was told he could go home. He decided to stay and fight for his country. As the war raged into 1945 and victory was imminent, he completed one-hundred missions. Again, he was told to go home. His response was, “I don’t want some rookie going up there and getting shot down.” On April 24, 1945 while on his 103rd mission he was shot down over the Po Valley in Italy. My great-grandmother got that all too common ill-fated letter stating that her son was shot down, missing in action. Stories were a bit convoluted and for a brief time there was hope that he survived, but as the years unfolded, it was apparent that our beloved Archie was not coming home.
As I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, my Dad, now a veteran of the United States Marine Corp, kept the memory of Uncle Archie alive by telling us stories of his dedication and heroism. We thought perhaps his remains were buried in a grave, marked with a white cross somewhere in Italy. We had not realized that they had never been found. Our annual attendance to the local Memorial Day Parade and Service was always marked by thoughts (and tears) of Uncle Archie along with so many question.
Many years passed, but we kept Uncle Archie’s memory alive. In 1992 the Mid Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, PA began hosting a World War II Reanactment annually. As the years progressed, interest in this event increased and it expanded significantly. I have attended regularly with my wife. In June of 2014, we invited my Dad along because we had seen a P-47 Thunderbolt on display the previous year. We were not disappointed. The Thunderbolt was present and we took lots of pictures of the plane Uncle Archie flew in. In addition to this, we found a booth representing an organization called, Together We Served. We were amazed at the information we found about our beloved Captain Arthur “Archie” Halfpapp. We saw his photo, a list of medals awarded and a short accounting by his wingman of how and where he went down. We left the Air Show delighted with what we saw.
In September of that same year, 2014, the local TV news ran a story about an airman from Steelton, PA whose remains had been unearthed in the Po Valley of Italy. They were asking if anyone in the area knew anything about him. My Dad saw the news that night and immediately called the station. What a joy, a miracle for our family. Since Archie was an only son, and he had not been married, he had no children. The Halfpapp name was gone from the area. Within weeks, the local news anchor came down to interview my Dad and find out what he remembered about Uncle Archie. They ran another story on him with all of the information my Dad could give. Soon the Army sent representatives to collect DNA samples to see if there was a familial match. Indeed there was.
The Army gave my Dad and his sister a choice of returning his remains with full military honors in November of 2015, or April of 2016. They chose April of 2016. After the long wait over the winter, the day arrived when Captain Halfpapp’s remains would be flown into Harrisburg International Airport. Many from our family waited anxiously as the jetliner taxied to its spot for transfer. The military color guard carefully and respectfully removed the flag-draped coffin and carried our hero to the awaiting hearse. I cannot describe the emotions. There was sorrow like we lost our uncle just weeks ago and at the same time, joy that he was coming home after being lost under the Italian soil for 70 years.
My Dad officiated the service for him at a local funeral home in Middletown. There were many dignitaries there from the military and local government. Most notably were the two Italian archaeologists (Fabio Raimondi and Emmanuel Roma) who were responsible for finding what remained of the submerged P-47 and Uncle Archie’s personal effects. It was such an honor to have them make the long trip from Italy and to tell us firsthand how and what they found.
After the General presented his medals we drove out to Fort Indiantown Gap for the graveside service. There was a twenty-one gun salute and a flyover of an Apache helicopter. Again, my Dad officiated at graveside during this somber, but fitting ceremony. We could finally commit his remains to the earth even though his soul was soared into the arms of Jesus on that fateful day, April 24, 1945.
As Captain Halfpapp’s final resting place is part of a large National Military Cemetery, his grave is one of the highlights of the tour. Although there are many World War II veterans buried at Indiantown Gap, he is the only WWII veteran that was killed in action during that war.