Full Military Honors: Second World War Bomber Pilot Identified By The DPAA

A B-24 Bomber flying over China during WW2.
A B-24 Bomber flying over China during WW2.

Full military honors will be accorded to the remains of a missing Second World War U.S. serviceman following identification after being returned to his family for internment the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced recently.

Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Robert E. Moessner, 24, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was laid to rest April 5 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.

On April 18, 1944, Moessner, the bombardier of a B-24 aircraft flying out of Kwelin, China, was shot down close to Hong Kong, in addition, eleven other crew members were onboard.

The aircraft had been conducting sea surveillance and saw a Japanese merchant ship with an escorting destroyer.  After making two attacks, they retreated under heavy fire, but were subsequently shot down by Japanese fighter aircraft.

The pilot crashed the bomber into the shallow water of Hong Kong harbor, and it broke apart on impact.  Two surviving crewmembers were captured by the Japanese.

After their release at the end of the war, they reported that Moessner went down with the B-24.

In the days after the crash, the Japanese retrieved the wreckage and recovered two bodies.

Local residents also found bodies close to the shore.  At the end of the war, Army Graves Registration Service (AGRS) recovered the remains and took them into their care.

Three sets were ultimately identified, and the fourth was buried as an ‘Unknown’ in the Hawaii-based National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

In August 2005, based on improvements in DNA technology the grave was unearthed and the remains forwarded to the lab for analysis.

To identify Moessner’s remains, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and DPAA used circumstantial evidence, in addition to Next-Generation Sequencing to complete a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) match to a maternal family member, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reported.

Sixteen million served in World War II.  Over 400,000 died during the war.  Presently there are 76,074 service members still unaccounted for from the Second World War.

Ian Harvey

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