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USAFE band member discovers family history on Memorial Day

Senior Airman Colby Fahrenbacher, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band member, salutes the name of his great-uncle at the North African American Cemetery in Tunisia, May 30, 2016. Fahrenbacher's great-uncle, Tech. Sgt. Merle Noffsinger was a B-24 gunner and bombardier who was shot down May 1, 1943. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Will McCrary/Released).

Senior Airman Colby Fahrenbacher, a U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band member, salutes the name of his great-uncle at the North Africa American Cemetery in Tunisia, May 30, 2016. Fahrenbacher's great-uncle, Tech. Sgt. Merle Noffsinger, was a gunner and bombardier on the B-24 Liberator, and he was shot down May 1, 1943. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Will McCrary)

NORTH AFRICA AMERICAN CEMETERY, Tunisia (AFNS) -- "My entire family always wondered what happened to him,” said Senior Airman Colby Fahrenbacher, referring to his great-uncle who went missing during World War II. “I always looked for his name whenever I played a memorial.”

Fahrenbacher, a tuba player in the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band, grew up hearing stories about his great-uncle Merle Noffsinger, who served with the Army Air Force. The band’s smaller brass quintet, including Fahrenbacher, performed during a Memorial Day ceremony to honor the 2,800 fallen Americans buried in Tunisia and recognized more than 3,000 missing in action. The Memorial Day ceremony served to remember the Allies liberation and reaffirm America's continued commitment to a free, prosperous and secure Tunisia.

“I checked the wall of the missing in action here at Africa's only American cemetery, and there it was. His name was right there staring back at me. I couldn't believe it,” Fahrenbacher said.

Finding his great-uncle’s name provided some answers for Fahrenbacher’s family.

Noffsinger was born March 18, 1921, in Bond County, Illinois. He enlisted with his brother Herschel on the same day, Nov. 24, 1941, as an airplane mechanic and later became a gunner and bombardier on the B-24 Liberator. Noffsinger had flown more than 100 missions and received the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross. He was shot down on a mission over the Mediterranean Sea May 1, 1943. He had just written a letter to his mother April 23, 1943, informing her had had been promoted to the rank of technical sergeant, and that he would be returning home soon.

When Fahrenbacher found his great-uncle’s name on the wall of the missing, he was excited to be able to share the news with Noffsinger’s sister-in-law Alvena Noffsinger, who is 92 years old and resides in Vandalia, Illinois.

"My family visited her a lot while I was growing up, and my mother talks to her often," Fahrenbacher said. "She always believed that Merle would return someday. Not knowing for certain what happened to him was tough on her. This will be a very special Memorial Day for her."

Finding Noffsinger’s name had an impact on the band members as well.

"It was a very emotional moment for Colby and for all of us in the band," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Kirkpatrick, the music director of the USAFE Band's Five Star Brass quintet. "Having something tangible right there in front of you really serves to memorialize the sacrifices these heroes made so that we may all enjoy the freedoms we celebrate every day."

For Fahrenbacher, honoring fallen military members is a typical part of any Memorial Day ceremony, but learning about his great-uncle created a personal connection.

"This is a Memorial Day I will never forget," Fahrenbacher said. "My great-uncle Merle paid the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his own life for a bigger cause. His memory will stay with me forever."

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