Missing WWII Pilot Receives Full Military Honors

WWII pilot Vernal Bird was left with a sole surviving sibling. But history will remember Bird’s heroism as thousands pay tribute to him during his burial.

The remains of missing World War II airman has finally been identified. He was buried in Utah September of this year with a sole surviving sibling to witness his tribute.

Full military honors were given to U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Vernal J. Bird. During the unfortunate crash of his plane, Bird was reported to have a dozen brothers and sisters. Fox News reports that Bird disappeared in the crash in Papua New Guinea in 1944. It was nearly 70 years ago and he was then 25 when his plane crashed while conducting a bombing run over Japanese fields in the said area, Fox News reports.

Twelve years ago, the crash site was discovered with the partial remains of an unknown pilot. This summer, the remains were identified to belong to Bird.

Elaine Bird Jack of Eugene, Ore., his only surviving sibling, was also the only one who has memories of Vernal Bird. Lorna Bird Snyder, Bird’s 66 year old niece, relates that they have not personally known the hero pilot.

The 92 year old sibling attended the burial of the pilot at Evergreen Cemetery in Springville. She was the 13th child while Vernal Bird was the 12th to Walter F. and Christina Pearsson Ash Bird.

A fibula was the one of the parts of the remains found at the crash site. It also provided the DNA used to compare to that of Elaine. The test proved positive. Snyder further expresses the family’s hopes to find more of the remains of their relative after a full evacuation of the crash site.

Staff Sgt. Roy Davis, Bird’s co-pilot from New Hampshire, is still missing as of this writing.

The site of the plane crash was discovered by a Papuan national in the deep forested mountains of Papua New Guinea. The fibula and other pieces of the plane inlcuding the engine indentification plates of the bomber plane were brought to an American recovery team in 2001. The DNA testing on the fibula identified the bone to belong to Vernal Bird last July this year.

Two days before the crash, Bird was able to send his last letter to his family. The letter read, “we fly right in the leaves at times.” March 12, 1944, the light bomber flown low by Bird crashed.

Bird’s niece, Snyder, did a research in Papua New Guinea aiming to find the missing relative. She used Bird’s letters as reference in her research to locate the exact site of the crash. The Air Force also provided information of the Australian-American missions over Japanese fields in the area hoping to zero in on the crash site.

After years of dedicated search, Snyder’s efforts paid off.

“My parents of course loved him. They instilled in us that Vernal was an honorable, brave, intelligent young man. We loved his picture,” Snyder said. The family kept Vernal Bird’s portrait among the family mementos to keep his memory alive.


Siegphyl is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE