SUN LAKES, AZ — A Valley veteran missing for days was found dead in the desert south of the Phoenix metro area.
Eugene “Gene” Hafeman was last seen Saturday in Sun Lakes, near Riggs and Dobson roads at the Renaissance Retirement facility.
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office says its helicopter spotted the 97-year-old World War II veteran's vehicle on Gila River Indian Community land around 1:40 p.m. Thursday.
Authorities on the ground arrived to find him deceased.
MCSO said it appears his vehicle got stuck in soft sand and he died of heat exposure.
TRAGIC UPDATE:— Zach Crenshaw (@ZachCrenshaw) June 7, 2019
Gene Hafeman, 97, a WWII & Korean War vet, father, grandfather & great-grandfather was found deceased.
He died of heat exhaustion on the Gila River reservation after MCSO says his vehicle got stuck in soft sand in the desert.
He will join his wife in Arlington RIP https://t.co/HyFO5FeFlx pic.twitter.com/pUaIedxz3z
Hafeman was an American war hero who enlisted at 20 years old.
“He ended up becoming a dive bomber pilot in the Marines,” said Jacobs. He fought in the Pacific and received a Purple Heart and four Distinguished Flying Crosses, given for heroic or extraordinary achievement in an aerial flight.
“He was [also] drafted to go to Korea because they needed pilots,” said his daughter.
Detectives with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office had difficulty tracking Hafeman because he did not use any of his credit cards and carried no cell phone.
Kathryn and other siblings flew to the Valley to help try and find their missing father.
The veteran suffered from no memory loss and had few health issues before his disappearance.