Billie Pearl
Billie Pearl

Billie Pearl – At Rest … Finally

In service to our community, the Ira Kaufman Chapel philosophy is to follow Moses’ declaration that “death should not be less than life.”
      As funeral director, David Techner has spent 43 years devoted to upholding that noble mission. Any family touched by his counsel and comforted by his kindness knows he stays true to that philosophy — even if it means helping a loved one decades after a loss.  Just ask Pet Nosan.

Nosan, 88, has spent nearly a lifetime seeking closure to the tragic loss of her beloved late brother. She was just 16 when, on Nov. 10, 1944, Army Air Corps radio gunner Corp. Billie Pearl spent what would be the final seconds of his life sending distress signals as his B-25 bomber was forced to ditch into the Pacific Ocean. The bomber had succumbed to enemy anti-aircraft fire over Wewak, New Guinea. 

Billie, 19, remained in his position at the rear of the aircraft through its final descent to complete his Mayday distress call. That heroic decision would cost him his life but spare the lives of his fellow crew members. All on board, except Billie, survived the impact; the survivors were eventually plucked from life rafts by the Royal Australian Air Force. Billie’s body was never found.

No body. No funeral. No closure.

Billie would receive the Silver Star posthumously for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.

A small stone marking Billie’s birth and death lies between his parents’ graves at Machpelah Cemetery

However, for reasons still unclear to this day, Billie Pearl did not receive the standard military tribute for a fallen soldier after being killed in action in 1944.

In an extraordinary act of brotherhood for their fallen comrade, all surviving members of Billie’s flight crew eventually made their way to the Pearl home on Webb Street in Detroit. One by one, they arrived over the summer of 1945 to pay their final respects to Billie’s parents, Mary and Barney Pearl.

Nosan recalls her father, a hard-nosed criminal attorney, “drilled them with questions” to garner information about his son’s final act of valor. To a man, each of Billie’s crew members said they owed his life to his son.

Nosan says her father “never regained his balance” after Billie’s death. He would spend the rest of his life nurturing the legacy of his hero son. We got a “daily diet of Billie,” Nosan recalls affectionally. But no amount of information or eyewitness accounts could fill the void of Billie Pearl never returning home. Nor could it make up for the fact that Billie never received the official tribute he so richly deserved — that is, until a chance meeting at a shivah call between Pet Nosan and David Techner changed everything.   

Making Things Right

Pet Nosan with the military flag used at the memorial service for her brother Billie

Nosan shared the heart-wrenching story of her brother with Techner.

“As the conversation advanced,” he recalled, “tears welled up in her eyes. I could see not only the pain of losing her only brother, but also that the lack of any further acknowledgment had weighed on her for seven decades.”

“Appalled” is how Nosan described Techner’s reaction to her story. He assured her he “would do something to honor her brother.”

Following that conversation, office manager Kelly Woerner at Kaufman Chapel in Southfield began corresponding with the Army Reserve Military Funeral Honors Team based in Fraser, Mich. The necessary paperwork and preparations for a full military memorial service were put into motion.

“I was amazed by their response,” Techner said.  

Last Nov. 6, just five days before Veterans Day, Pet Nosan, surrounded by an intimate gathering of family members, witnessed the long-overdue honoring of her beloved brother. A dozen members of the Army Reserve Military Funeral Honors Team gathered at Machpelah Cemetery in Ferndale where Billie’s parents are interred. The bittersweet ceremony included an emotional precision flag-folding ceremony, a 21-gun salute and the somber tones of Taps played by a lone bugler.

Army Reserve Military Funeral Honors Team members get ready to fold the memorial flag

After the ceremony, 1st Sgt. Michelle Belcher presented the flag to Pet Nosan and recited the following time-honored words: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army and a very grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your brother’s honorable and faithful service to our country.”

Thanks to a generous donation by the family of A. Alfred Taubman, a stone bearing Billie Pearl’s name now rests between his parents’ grave stones.

No body. No funeral. But finally some sense of closure.

“The comfort brought to Billie’s younger sister was, as I had hoped,  truly touching,” Techner said. “I thanked each member of the Honors Team, but they returned the thanks to me.”

Belcher said, “You have no idea how much we appreciate being here today. Our motto is ‘No soldier left behind.’”

A few days after the ceremony, Techner received a handwritten note from Pet Nosan, who lives in West Bloomfield.

“I cannot begin to thank you enough for arranging the most beautiful experience for me and my family,” she wrote. “After 72 years, my brother is with his mother and father. Thank you for caring enough to make this happen. After such a long time, Billie is finally where he belongs, thanks in large part to you.” 

Techner said, “I try to honor every veteran who served this country with a tribute by the Jewish War Veterans and/or the military branch to which each veteran served.”

Now Pet Nosan has the one thing she has spent a lifetime longing for — “that everyone will know there was a Billie Pearl in this world.”