Fallen WWII veteran laid to rest

Fallen WWII veteran laid to rest

Family members of fallen WWII hero Willard R. Best Sr. carry his casket into the Memorial Park Cemetery prior to a burial ceremony Sept. 24. Coal Country Times photo by Jackson Wilson.


Staunton native Willard R. Best Sr.’s body returned home after 75 years

Coal Country Times Reporter

On Sept. 24, a processional was held for fallen World War II veteran and Staunton native Willard R. Best, who lost his life in combat at age 24 on Aug. 24, 1944.

After his body had been missing for 75 years, Best’s remains were positively identified on Sept. 3, 2019. His burial, however, had to be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Best’s flag-wrapped casket was transported from Williamson Funeral Home through the streets of downtown Staunton, which were lined with general public members and Community Unit School District No. 6 students holding flags and giving salutes in remembrance of their beloved hero.

Best was honored with a moment of silence, gunfire salute and the playing of Taps at Memorial Park Cemetery prior to his burial.

Today, Best’s name remains recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) site in Belgium, along with the others missing from WWII.

Although he was classified as an unknown trooper, Best’s grave was meticulously cared for by the ABMC for the past seven decades, according to reports.

A rosette has been placed next to Best’s name indicating that he was identified.

World War II

Best was a top turret gunner aboard a B-17G plane that was assigned to the 407th Bombardment Squadron of the United States’ Air Force.

On the day of Best’s death, the Flying Fortress was conducting a bombing raid over Germany prior to getting shot down by anti-aircraft ammunition. Of the nine crew members on board, only four were able to parachute out of the exploding plane to safety.

Best was laid to rest in Europe’s Leipzig-Lindenthal Cemetery after he succumbed.

Best’s body identified

In April 2019, three sets of remains were sent to laboratories for identification after they were disinterred. Scientists, including ones from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, used anthropological analysis mitochondrial DNA analysis to identify Best.


Best was born on April 10, 1920, to the late Otto and Lena Best of Staunton. He was the brother of Harold (Elaine) Best, Leland “Elmer” Best and Joyce (Ike) Bangert, who have all deceased. Best was married to the late Alma L. (Eyer) Best Piekutowski.

Today, W. Best is survived by his son, Willard “Dick” Best of Decatur; three grandchildren, Michael (Amanda) Best of Colorado, Laura Conley of Shelbyville, and Richard (Angie) Best of West Virginia; seven great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren. Also surviving are nieces, Beverly Bangert of Springfield, Connie (Philip) Cavoretto of Staunton, Lynn Bangert of Springfield, Debbie (Mike) Pernicka of Staunton, Lois (Greg) Savant of Gillespie, and Karen Johnson; and nephew, Lee (Sue) Best of Arlington Heights.