RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- After nearly eight decades of waiting, a North Carolina family finally has answers. Fred Brewer, a Shaw University graduate who went on to join the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, was declared dead after a mishap in the skies over Europe. But Brewer's remains were never identified. Until now.
"We are excited. We are happy," Brewer's cousin Brenda Brewer told ABC11 on the phone. A family is finally getting closure after 79 years of waiting.
It was October 1944, two years after Fred Brewer graduated from Shaw University, the then-U.S. Air Force second lieutenant, was piloting his P-51C Mustang, called 'Travelin' Lite" -- en route to bombing targets in Germany.
Heavy cloud cover over Italy forced Brewer into a spin. The fighter plane was gone. Brewer was first classified as missing in action. Then, he was declared dead. But his remains were still unaccounted for.
In 2011, remains were recovered near an Italian cemetery. It took more than a decade of advances in science and technology, but the Defense Department is now confirming the positive identification of 2nd Lt. Brewer.
"After all these years, we finally get closure," said Brenda Brewer. "I thought that this was something that would happen. But it took strong belief to go through this process."
Back in Raleigh, at Brewer's alma mater, Shaw, retired Air Force veteran Gerald Givens told ABC11 that he owes his career to Brewer and the rest of that elite class of Black World War II fighter pilots, dubbed the Tuskegee Airmen, the nation's first Black military airmen.
"I wouldn't be able to stand here in front of you if it wasn't for the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen," said Givens, who met several Tuskegee pilots during his time in the Air Force. "The stories they told me inspired me and molded me to always be an excellent airman.
"It's so important for the (Brewer) family and for the Air Force as a whole to get some closure on this situation. So now, he can finally rest in peace," Givens added.
Brewer's cousin said that while attending Shaw, Brewer served as editor of the Shaw Journal and Shaw's yearbook, The Bear.
"At one point, I wanted him to be buried at Arlington (National Cemetery). And that's just not my wish anymore," Brenda Brewer said. "He's been away too long. I want him as close as I can get him."
Brewer's remains are still at the Defense Department lab where they were identified. His family members, who live in his native Charlotte, expect the remains to be returned for a final salute back here in North Carolina sometime this fall.