On a summer day in July 1943, a US B-25 Mitchell bomber took off from Tunisia in North Africa on a mission to attack Sciacca Aerodrome in Sicily, Italy.
The aircraft had a crew of six, including 27-year-old US Army Air Force (USAAF) Second Lieutenant Gilbert Haldeen Myers, co-pilot. Myers, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was assigned to the 381st Bombardment Squadron, 310th Bombardment Group.
But as the aircraft approached its intended target, the B-25 bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire, causing it to lose altitude and crash into a field about one and a half miles from the airport.
Witnesses at the time said that a crew member had ejected from the B-25 before it crashed, but Myers’ remains were never recovered, and he was later declared missing in action. There were no survivors, or any record of the passengers being taken captive.
Painstaking work to recover 2nd Lt. Myers
It is estimated that approximately 72,000 American personnel from World War II alone are still missing, with approximately 39,000 considered recoverable. For years, Myers was one of those people. In 1947, investigators conducted a search and recovery operation near Sciacca, but could not locate anything linked to Myers.
But then last year, almost 80 years after the B-25 crash, everything changed. Forensic experts from Cranfield University’s Recovery and Conflict Casualty Identification Team (CRICC) worked in partnership with colleagues. US Defense Prisoners of War/Missing Actions Accounting Agency (DPAA), travels to Siakka to conduct a painstaking investigation. In October 2023, investigators announced that they had found human remains belonging to Myers, and through DNA analysis in the US, he has now been located.
The Cranfield team consisted of a team of 20 people – each tasked with exploring the area around the impact zone. Such an undertaking involved the careful examination of tons of soil, with the aim of recovering fragments of human remains or personal items important for the identification of crew members.
Expert procedure used to analyze remains
Dr David Ericsson, Senior Lecturer in Archeology and Anthropology at the Cranfield Forensic Institute, emphasized the challenges faced during excavations in Sicily, and highlighted the use of wet screening to analyze the objects found. “This deployment was our longest ever,” he said.
“During our operation, we systematically excavated the ground, carefully examining each piece that could possibly contain bone or other evidence. In challenging environments such as the excavation site in Sicily, our team used wet screening, a “A process where excavated material is passed through water to separate and analyze human remains and artifacts.”
He added, “This year our forensics team has been involved in the investigation of several significant aircraft crashes in Europe, including the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, Douglas A-20 Havoc, Martin B-26 Marauder and upcoming missions involving the Boeing B- 17’s recovery site.”
He further emphasized the importance of such work, saying, “The recovery of Second Lieutenant Myers’ remains not only facilitates proper full military honors burial, but also allows the family to retrieve any personal effects . Most importantly, it brings closure to the families of those missing or killed in action.”
The human remains were sent to the DPAA laboratory for examination and identification and on August 10 of this year, the DPAA identified them as Myers. They also recovered parts of the plane’s debris.
The identification at the DPAA also included DNA analysis in addition to the anthropological and circumstantial evidence found by the Cranfield team.
Locating a missing soldier is a privilege
Myers’ name is recorded on the Wall of the Missing at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, along with others still missing from World War II. There are now plans to put a rosette next to his name to show he has been accounted for.
He was buried in St. Petersburg, Florida, on November 10, ahead of Remembrance Day this year.
Dr. Nicholas Marquez-Grant, a forensic anthropologist at the Cranfield Forensic Institute, said, “Sometimes these types of excavations yield results that are either unexplained or unexplained.”
“Additionally, conditions are influenced by post-event land use. In areas that have been plowed or the terrain has changed, discoveries are often limited to small pieces. However, even a small piece of evidence can lead to a person’s “Can be important in identifying.”
“In this case, it was a profound privilege to play a role in the search to locate a missing soldier, which led to the discovery of the family of Gilbert Haldeen Myers.”
The Cranfield University team included graduates of the Forensics MSc programme.
Experts from the Cranfield Forensic Institute (CFI) also assisted in the recovery and identification earlier this year U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. edgar l millsWho was killed in action over Germany during World War II. This is part of Cranfield University’s ongoing dedication to repatriating those missing in conflict.
Citation: Forensic scientists help locate missing World War II pilot after eight decades (2023, 16 November), https://phys.org/news/2023-11-forensic-scientists-world, 16 November 2023 Retrieved from -war-decades.html.
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