World War II MIAs Buried With Full Honors

July 19, 2006 — -- More than 60 years after they were declared missing in action, 13 World War II soldiers were buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Their remains were identified at a recently discovered crash site in the South Pacific.

On Nov. 4, 1943, a crew from the Army Air Force took off in a B-24 Liberator from New Guinea on an armed reconnaissance mission over the Bismarck Sea.

A few hours into the flight, the crew radioed that it had made three direct hits on a convoy of Japanese ships.

That was the last anyone heard from the crew.

In 2002, some villagers from Papua, New Guinea, were exploring unrelated WWII aircraft crash sites in the remote jungle of the Morobe Province when they came across aircraft data plates, dog tags, and even some bones.

They turned everything over to a local government official who contacted the U.S. Embassy.

The following year, the Pentagon's POW/MIA office sent a team to excavate the site. The team found more remains and personal effects, including ID tags and bracelets.

Through the modern technology of DNA science, identifications were made.

This was not just any ordinary DNA science. It's called mitochondrial DNA, which can be extracted from ancient remains.

Using this particular methodology, the Pentagon has identified thousands of World War II soldiers who were once missing in action and thought to be lost forever.

"It gives families a chance to close a painful chapter," said Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Pentagon's POW/MIA office.

The families attending today's funerals included brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews of the honored servicemen.

Greer said some family members were too young to remember, but for those brothers and sisters still living, "they do remember the pain," Greer said. "They were there."

Four soldiers were buried in Arlington, Va., along with one additional casket carrying the group remains of nine of the crew.

A total of 18 servicemen were killed in that crash -- the other five were previously buried in their hometowns.

Greer said that people might not realize the Pentagon was still actively trying to identify men lost during World War II.

Seventy-eight thousand men are unaccounted for from that conflict.

MIAs and POWs are more closely associated with the Vietnam war, but Greer says, in fact, there are more than 100 crash sites in the South Pacific waiting for excavation teams.

Greer said, "We've got a lot of work ahead of us."

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