Howard Enoch III keeps a memorial to his father on a shelf in his living room, where black-and-white photos are joined by military distinctions that include a Purple Heart, air medal and a pilot ring he used to wear, but stopped for fear of scratching it.

Howard Enoch III keeps a memorial to his father on a shelf in his living room, where black-and-white photos are joined by military distinctions that include a Purple Heart, air medal and a pilot ring he used to wear, but stopped for fear of scratching it.


"It's ironic that someone's life is reduced to possessions that can fit into a couple cardboard boxes," said Enoch.


His father's name is also featured on the Tablets of the Missing at the Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium.


Enoch never knew his father because 2nd Lt. Howard "Cliff" Enoch Jr. boarded a P-51D Mustang fighter on March 19, 1945, in East Wretham, England, bound for a mission over Halle, Germany, never to return. A firefight just east of Leipzig, Germany, ultimately caused him to go into a fatal nosedive.


Only 19, he left behind a 17-year-old wife and an unborn son in the hills of western Kentucky.


That son, Howard Enoch III, is now 63 years old and lives on Hilltop Lane in Framingham.


On April 19, Enoch learned he would have something more than engravings and tokens of military merit to remember his father by.


It was on that date the Army told him his father's remains had been identified.


Enoch had long accepted that the unknown would cloud his father's disappearance over eastern Germany.


When he reached the age to comprehend his father's disappearance, his mother had remarried. The subject of his father was not often broached.


"My mother never talked about my father," said Enoch, who has lived in town for the past 13 years and serves as a director for a theater arts center at Boston College.


One of the few people who can recall Enoch is distant cousin and Kentucky native R.C. Hamilton.


"He was a nice young man, a good student from what I remember," said Hamilton, 82, from his Kentucky home. "I recall we used to play together a whole lot. During the Depression, there was not much else to do but visit friends and kinfolk. I recall he had a few toys I didn't have. I think it's great they found him."


Inside his home nestled in a wooded northwest nook of Framingham near the borders of Sudbury and Marlborough, Enoch tried to articulate the closure.


"It's hard to describe the bittersweetness," said Enoch, his eyes watering. "I wished he had been around, and I never expected to know anything about him. It's amazingly powerful."


As it turns out, his father's plane crashed in what would later become Soviet-controlled East Germany, hampering recovery efforts during the Cold War.


Compounding matters, World War II debris was so commonplace in Germany that a crashed plane was unlikely to cause much of a stir.


"You can't dig a hole in Germany without hitting munitions or pieces of airplanes or something that blew up," said Enoch. "So there's just so much there to the local people it's no big deal."


The pilots who were flying with Enoch misidentified the location of the crash site, further complicating the search.


"This is no one's fault. There was no GPS. They were going by landmarks in a country they had never been in before," said Enoch.


In 2004, German historian Hans Guenther Ploes identified a particular rural area as a potential location of plane wreckage.


In 2006, U.S. government dig teams sifted through the wreckage and found what at the time were termed "possible human remains."


"It was the Army, they were being cautious," said Enoch.


The archaeological findings were then sent to a lab in Hawaii for analysis.


The Army studied the geography of the crash, the style and plane identification, and, ultimately, DNA.


"They were trying to eliminate all the other possibilities just to make sure this was my dad's crash site," said Enoch.


Now, Enoch hopes for a military burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia by the end of August.


MetroWest Daily News staff writer Dan McDonald can be reached at 508-626-4416 or dmcdonal@cnc.com.