The remains of 11 airmen whose bomber disappeared during a World War II mission over the southwestern Pacific have been identified and are being returned for burial with military honors, Pentagon officials said Friday.
The men were members of the Army Air Forces 43rd Bomber Group, 63rd Bomber Squadron. They were listed as missing after their B-24 Liberator, the Swan, failed to return from a mission on Dec. 3, 1943.
The crew had departed from New Guinea on a reconnaissance mission over New Hanover Island in the Bismarck Sea. They reported dropping their bombs on target but, despite several radio contacts with their base, never returned.
The remains were recovered between 2004 and 2007 after members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command located and excavated a site on New Guinea where wreckage had been spotted by native hunters four years earlier.
Scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA and dental records to positively identify some of the remains, the military said. Some of the crewmen were also identified through circumstantial evidence, including identification tags.
Graduation ring found
Kathleen Lund — sister of 2nd Lt. Ronald F. Ward of Cambridge, Mass. — said searchers found two of his rings at the crash site, including Ward's high school graduation ring.
"This is going to be such a closure for my family," said Lund, who lives near Boston.
The pilot, Capt. Robert Coleman, was an athletic instructor from Wilmington, Del., who enlisted in September 1941. Military officials said Coleman's family did not wish to comment.
In addition to Ward and Coleman, the airmen have been identified as 1st Lt. George E. Wallinder of San Antonio; 2nd Lt. Kenneth L. Cassidy of Worcester, Mass.; 2nd Lt. Irving Schechner of New York; Tech. Sgt. William L. Fraser of Maplewood, Mo.; Tech. Sgt. Paul Miecias of Piscataway, N.J.; Tech. Sgt. Robert C. Morgan of Flint, Mich.; Staff Sgt. Albert J. Caruso of Kearny, N.J.; Staff Sgt. Robert E. Frank of Plainfield, N.J.; and Pvt. Joseph Thompson of Compton, Calif.
A funeral for Morgan was held Thursday in Holly, Mich., followed by burial at Great Lakes National Cemetery.
'A great guy'
Donald Morgan of Flushing, Mich., who was 11 when his brother died, described him as "a great guy" who wanted to go to college and study engineering.
Morgan said his brother's remains were identified through analysis of a piece of bone less than an inch long.
A group casket will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and be marked by a headstone with all 11 names, said Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office.
"In a larger group like this, there is always hundreds of skeletal fragments that could not be individually identified. Those are collected in a group and placed in a single casket," he said.