Missing for 70 years, 11 Army airmen return home
March 24, 2011
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, March 24, 2011) -- Eleven Army Air Force members, missing in action since Nov. 20, 1943, were finally laid to rest on American soil.
The Soldiers took off from Jackson Airfield, Port Moresby, New Guinea, to begin an overwater mission. During the first minutes of their flight, a radio transmission was received from the B-24D Liberator crew, indicating they were 20 miles northwest of the port. That was the last anyone heard from them.
Following World War II, the Army Graves Registration Service conducted investigations and searches for 43 missing airmen, including the 11 from the B-24. But by June 1949, the Army concluded that all were unrecoverable.
Decades later, in 1984, the government of Papua New Guinea notified U.S. officials of a World War II crash site in a ravine in Morobe Province. A search and recovery team investigated the site and located the wreckage.
During the operation, the team also discovered human remains, but were unable to complete the mission because of time restraints and the possibility of landslides.
Over the next 20 years, multiple teams from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command attempted to access and excavate the location but the threat of landslides still made recovery too dangerous.
About the same time, though, local villagers turned over human remains they had previously removed from the area.
Five years later, using forensic identification tools and other evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory were able to identify Army Air Force Tech. Sgt. Charles A. Bode, 23, of Baltimore, Md. He was buried Feb. 11 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Ten other men crew members have also been recovered:
- 1st Lt. Richard T. Heuss, 23, Berkley, Mich.
- 2nd Lt. Robert A. Miller, 22, Memphis, Tenn.
- 2nd Lt. Edward R. French, 23, Erie, Pa.
- 2nd Lt. Robert R. Streckenbach Jr., 21, Green Bay, Wis.
- Tech. Sgt. Lucian I. Oliver Jr., 23, Memphis, Tenn.
- Staff Sgt. Ivan O. Kirkpatrick, 36, Whittier, Calif.
- Staff Sgt. William K. Musgrave, 24, Hutsonville, Ill.
- Staff Sgt. James T. Moran, 21, Sloatsburg, N.Y.
- Staff Sgt. James B. Moore, 21, Woburn, Mass.
- Staff Sgt. Roy Surabian, 24, Medford, Mass.
A burial was held at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday for 2nd Lt. Robert A. Miller and another casket of co-mingled remains of other crewmembers.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died. At the end of the war, the U.S. government was unable to recover and identify about 79,000 Americans. Today, more than 74,000 are still missing.
"So many of us that worked this issue, our 600-person team, have kind of an unspoken feeling, a kinship if you will, with the guys who've gone before," said Larry Greer of the Department of Defense POW/MIA office.
"We know we're trying to live up to a commitment that this country made to the families. Our motto is 'keeping the promise' and we hope that we're able to do that," Greer said.
Someday, Greer hopes, they'll work themselves out of a job.
From the Vietnam War, there are less than 1,700 people who are still missing. From the Korean War there are 8,000 who are missing. Contrast that to the numbers who are missing today, in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's one Soldier missing from each war," Greer said.
The Soldiers conducting military honors at Arlington National Cemetery were from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard."
Presiding chaplains were Army Chaplain Capt. John Gabriel and Army Chaplain Capt. Kelly O'Lear. Both presented the flags to family members of the deceased.