Wednesday, March 19, 2008

WWII remains may finally be recovered

By Seamus O’Connor - Staff writer

U.S. military officials are in talks with Indian officials in New Delhi to arrange for the recovery of Army Air Forces bombers which crashed in areas previously deemed unsafe.

Clayton Kuhles, an independent researcher, has identified crash sites in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which shares borders with China and Burma.

“The Indian government previously could not guarantee or was not willing to guarantee our safety, because of unrest in the area” related to border disputes, said Army Maj. Brian DeSantis, a spokesman for the Joint POW/MIA Accountability Command headquartered in Hawaii. JPAC is the group which investigates and recovers U.S. service members from foreign territory.

The situation changed in January, when JPAC Commander Rear Adm. Donna L. Crisp attended a meeting of the Indo-U.S. Defense Policy Group in Washington, D.C. There Crisp laid out a plan to discuss how recovery efforts in Arunachal Pradesh might proceed, leading to the current talks in New Delhi.

The news is music to the ears of Gary Zaetz, the nephew of 1st Lt. Irwin Zaetz, who was a crewmember on a B-24 bomber that went down in Arunachal Pradesh in 1944. Kuhles recently found the crash site of that plane, as detailed on his Web site,

“Adm. Crisp’s visit really represents a major leap forward in our efforts, and we’re very grateful to JPAC and (the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office) for accomplishing this,” Zaetz said.

Zaetz said JPAC officials told him recovery efforts could begin as soon as this month, but are more likely to commence in March 2009.

The Army Air Force lost 460 aircraft and 792 men during the aerial resupply of China from India from 1942-45. Airlifters flew a treacherous route over the Himalayas, known as “the Hump,” resulting in numerous crashes in remote areas of India, Burma and China. Many of those lost aircrews are still listed as missing. Though Kuhles has identified some crash sites, JPAC can not investigate without clearance and protection from the host nation’s government.

Indian government officials “believe that it may now be safe to go into some of these places that may contain crash sites with missing service members from World War II,” DeSantis said. The talks will continue through Friday, he said.

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