The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of 11 U.S. servicemen, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

They are Capt. Robert L. Coleman, of Wilmington, Del.; 1st Lt. George E. Wallinder, of San Antonio, Texas; 2nd Lt. Kenneth L. Cassidy, of Worcester, Mass.; 2nd Lt. Irving Schechner, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; 2nd Lt. Ronald F. Ward, of Cambridge, Mass.; Tech. Sgt. William L. Fraser, of Maplewood, Mo.; Tech. Sgt. Paul Miecias, of Piscataway, N.J.; Tech. Sgt. Robert C. Morgan, of Flint, Mich.; Staff Sgt. Albert J. Caruso, of Kearny, N.J.; Staff Sgt. Robert E. Frank, of Plainfield, N.J.; and Pvt. Joseph Thompson, of Compton, Calif; all U.S. Army Air Forces. The dates and locations of the funerals are being set by their families.

Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations. The SW Pacific was a critical area of operations as it sat astride the vital lifeline that ran from the newly conquered territories added to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere Japanese Empire. Here, ships carried the raw material – rubber, oil and other goods, from the plundered lands back to the home islands. Recognizing the strategic nature of the area, a sizeable naval and air garrison was built on the far end of the island of New Britain – Rabul. Thwarted in their push to the south and Australia by the stalemate at the Battle of the Coral Sea and rocked back on their heels by the recent losses at Midway, the forces at Rabul have been reinforced.

(Rabul, Port Moresby & Bismarck Sea environs)

The strategic importance of the Japanese garrison at Rabul and presence in the Bismarck Sea was not lost on Douglas MacArthur and his staff. The problem was how to address it in the course of pressing the return to the Phillipines and eventual invasion of Japan. Doing so meant retaking the Solomons – Operation Cartwheel. With the heavier elements of naval power concentrated in the northern thrust under CINCPACFLT’s ADM Nimitz (especially the still, in 1943, high demand/low density CVs), an alternative source had to be found. One, the 5th AF, was to become his hammer and anvil in attacking shipping in the Bismark Sea. Eschewing a direct attack on Rabul, the plan would be to bypass it, cut it off from outside support while still hammering it from the air.


2/3 December 1943. A B-24D (s/n 42-40475) lifts off from Seven Mile field outside Port Moresby. At the controls is Capt. Robert Coleman of Wilmington, Delaware. As “The Swan” climbs slowly into the fetid tropical night, it begins a turn to the northeast. Having recently been transferred from the 2nd Sea Control Squadron, this B-24D-60-CO model was specially configured with radar – all the better to go hunting Japanese shipping in the night. Except on tis night Swan’s mission is listed simply as “reconniassance.” A key battle is looming on the horizon later this month – Operation Dexter and with it, the invasion of part of the island of New Britain and capture of the Japanese airfield at Cape Gloucester.

Unfortunately following a transmission at 0035L (“Why aren’t the lights on?), The Swan was lost with all hands somewhere between Dobodura and Hanover island (the latter located in the Bismarck Sea). Searches would turn up empty handed (as thick as the jungle can be, even a relatively fresh crash site can be rapidly overgrown and hidden from the air in a matter of days) and eventually it would join the long and growing list of MIA aircraft and crews.

2001-2004. Even the jungle gives up its secrets over the course of time. Stories from the locals in the area of Deboin lead a noted New Guinea wreck detective to investigate whereupon a dogtag from one of the Swan’s crewmembers is presented. This in turn led to a presentation at a CILHI (Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii) that April and eventually an onsite investigation and excavation beginning in April 2004 and running through 2006 by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC).

(Prop wreckage from Swan crash site)

Seven bodies were recovered along with personal effects. Among dental records, other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.

(5th AF/43rd BG B-24J’s ca. 1944)

UNDER the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
– Robert Louis Stevenson
(‘Requiem’ from Underwoods)

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