After 76 years, remains of fallen airman return home to Needham

Needham firefighters stood as the remains of US Army First Lieutenant Joseph Edward Finneran arrived at a local funeral home Friday evening.
Mike Bello/Globe Staff
Needham firefighters stood as the remains of US Army First Lieutenant Joseph Edward Finneran arrived at a local funeral home Friday evening.

US Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Joseph E. Finneran.

NEEDHAM — First Lieutenant Joseph Edward Finneran, an Army airman who died in World War II, came home Friday night.

Finneran’s remains were identified by scientists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency this summer — 76 years after his death in Ploesti, Romania, according to a statement from the Pentagon.

He was 22 when his B-24D aircraft was shot down in August 1943, the statement said. Finneran was a bombardier.


After a ceremony at Logan Airport, a hearse carrying Finneran’s remains was escorted by State Police down the Massachusetts Turnpike, arriving at the George F. Doherty & Sons Funeral Home on Highland Avenue.

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The Boston Fire Department joined with firefighters from Newton, Wellesley, Sharon, and Brookline on the bridges over the Mass. Pike and roads to salute Finneran’s return.

Boston Fire Department

Members of the Needham police and fire departments stood at attention shortly after 7:15 p.m. when Finneran’s flag-covered casket was taken into the funeral home as dozens of residents watched in silence.

Needham Fire Chief Dennis Condon thanked first responders for honoring the fallen soldier.

A death notice for Finneran published in the Globe said he was born and raised in Needham. “He was, by his sister Katherine’s telling, a kind and easy-going soul,” the notice stated.


The family later moved to Boston where Finneran, a standout athlete, graduated from Jamaica Plain High School in 1939, the notice said.

For years, Finneran was involved with the Needham Golf Course, first as a caddy and later as assistant pro. He enlisted 11 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, according to the notice.

His survivors include a nephew, Robert Finneran of Walpole, who provided his DNA to help identify his uncle’s remains.

“What happened to him has been one of those unknowns my whole life,” Robert Finneran told the Globe last month.

Joseph Finneran was a first lieutenant bombardier, assigned to the 345th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bombardment Group, and had been involved in the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries in Romania during the war, the Defense Department statement said.


“He had completed twenty-five missions when he and his crewmates were lost in Operation Tidal Wave, a high-casualty, low-level bombing raid designed to destroy Hitler’s oil refineries at Ploesti,” the notice stated.

Finneran was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster, and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the notice said.

Finneran is also survived by another nephew, William Glennon of Quincy, and his nieces Mimi Finneran and Sheila Creighton of Vero Beach, Fla.; Gail Finneran of Jacksonville, Fla.; and Mary Anne Baker of Attleboro.

A funeral Mass for Finneran will be said at St. Joseph Church in Needham on Nov. 9 at 10 a.m. He will be buried in Mount Benedict Cemetery in West Roxbury.