WWII aviators recovered from New Guinea, laid to rest
September 21, 2011
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 21, 2011) -- The remains of nine Army airmen were interred Sept. 21 at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., more than 68 years after their flight over Papua New Guinea was shot down by the Japanese.
At the height of World War II, the flying mission of one B-17E Flying Fortress, nicknamed "Naughty but Nice," ended up short lived. All but one of its crew were killed after the aircraft was hit, June 26, 1943.
The crew's mission, after launching from an airfield near Dobodura in New Guinea, was to carry out a bombing mission over Rabaul. The plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and ultimately shot down by Japanese fighter aircraft. Only the mission's navigator, 1st Lt. Jose L. Holguin, survived.
The lieutenant, who had bailed out of the aircraft after it was shot by the Japanese, was severely injured. He survived for three weeks in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, until he was found by natives there. The natives provided him immediate assistance, but eventually turned him over to the Japanese.
Holguin was held as a prisoner of war from about July 30, 1943 to Sept. 7, 1945, at the Japanese Sixth Field Kempei Tai Headquarters Prisoner of War Camp, Rabaul, New Guinea.
Following World War II, in 1949, U.S. military personnel in the area were led by local citizens to a B-17 crash site on New Britain Island. There, remains were recovered but couldn't be identified given the technology of the time. The found remains were buried as unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
In 1982 and 1983, Holguin returned to the area and located the crash site. A fragment of the aircraft nose art was recovered and is displayed in the War Museum in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea. In 1985, the remains buried in Hawaii were exhumed and identified as Staff Sgt. Henry Garcia, Staff Sgt. Robert E. Griebel, 2nd Lt. Herman H. Knott, Staff Sgt. Pace P. Payne, and 2nd Lt. Francis G. Peattie. In 2001, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command excavated the crash site and found additional human remains and crew-related equipment.
Among forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC used dental comparisons and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA -- which matched that of some of the crew members' families -- in the identification of their remains.
Remains representing nine of the 10 crew members of the June 26, 1943 B-17E mission over Papua New Guinea were interred as a group now at Arlington National Cemetery. They were buried with full military honors.
Among the remains represented in the group burial are:
-- Tech. Sgt. Robert L. Christopherson, engineer
-- Staff Sgt. Henry Garcia, assistant engineer
-- Tech. Sgt. Leonard A. Gionet, radio
-- Staff Sgt. Robert E. Griebel, assistant radio
-- 2nd Lt. Herman H. Knott, assistant bombardier
-- Staff Sgt. Pace P. Payne, gunner
-- 2nd Lt. Francis G. Peattie, bombardier
-- 1st Lt. William J. Sarsfield, pilot
-- 2nd Lt. Charles E. Trimingham, co-pilot
Holguin, who had served as the navigator, died on March 22, 1994, in Los Angeles, Calif.