US Military Searches British Field for Missing WWII Airman

The items have been cleaned by the team Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA
The items have been cleaned by the team Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

The US military is searching for the remains of an airman who has been listed as missing in action ever since his plane crashed and exploded during World War II.

The B-26 Marauder bomber carrying six crew members and two 2,000-pound bombs crashed on June 4, 1944, during a mission to blow up a bridge in German-occupied France two days before D-Day. The plane developed engine problems shortly after takeoff from RAF Stansted Mountfitchet and crashed in a field with all crew members and bombs aboard.

The B-26 Marauder bomber carrying six crew members
The B-26 Marauder bomber carrying six crew members

Four of the airmen managed to crawl out of the wreckage and reach safety. A fifth member of the crew died when the bombs exploded. The sixth member of the crew is still unaccounted for 75 years later.

Sergeant First Class Peter Holderness is the team sergeant of the team searching for the airman’s remains in a field in Essex, England.

He would not give a precise location of the field in order to discourage trophy hunters from coming out and disturbing the site of the crash. He also would not give the name of the individual they are seeking out of respect for the family.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is tasked with finding and retrieving the remains of US servicemen and women who were killed in battle.

The excavation took place in August. During the search, the DPAA discovered pieces that may be bone. Those pieces were sent to a lab for verification.

If they were not able to find the remains of the missing airman, they may request a new permit to return to dig again.

A team of 23 people were involved in the search. After the soil was dug up, team members sifted it in a “wet screening” tent where they hosed down the dirt to find anything that might be relevant to the search.

Anything that was found which might possibly be of interest was placed in buckets that were inspected more closely. Anything that resembled bone material or other evidence, such as a dog tag, was sent to the lab Hawaii for further testing. Items found that are found to be important will be reported to the authorities.

If the remains of the airman are located, his descendants will be notified and the remains will be handled according to their wishes. One possibility is that the remains will be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia where thousands of US service members have been buried.

This excavation is the first that the agency has performed in the United Kingdom. According to the agency, there are 140 missing Americans from WWII that are believed to be in the UK.

There are a total of 82,000 US military personnel that remain unaccounted for from all conflicts around the world. Last year, the agency was able to identify 206 formerly missing service members.

Another Article From Us: WWII Airmen to Receive Proper Burial 77 Years After Being Shot Down

The DPAA was founded by merging the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) on January 30, 2015. It combined the DPMO, JPAC and some of the functions of the US Air Force’s Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory (LSEL).

Most of the agency’s searches occur in Asia. The highly acidic soil in that region causes remains to deteriorate more quickly so it is more critical to search in areas like Vietnam and Laos before turning their attention to the rest of the world.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE