368th FS P-51

First, the official press release:

Missing WWII Pilot Is Identified

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

He is 2nd Lt. Howard C. Enoch Jr., U.S. Army Air Forces, of Marion, Ky. He will be buried on Sep. 22 in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

Representatives from the Army met with Enoch’s next-of-kin to explain the recovery and identification process and to coordinate interment with military honors on behalf of the Secretary of the Army.

On March 19, 1945, Enoch was the pilot of a P-51D Mustang that crashed while engaging enemy aircraft about 20 miles east of Leipzig, near the village of Doberschütz, Germany. His remains were not recovered at the time, and Soviet occupation of eastern Germany precluded his recovery immediately after the war.

In 2004, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) surveyed a possible P-51 crash site near Doberschütz. The team found aircraft wreckage. In 2006, another JPAC team excavated the site and recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA in the identification of Enoch’s remains.

And now, the rest of the story…

The Details:

A/C type: P-51D

Serial Number: 44-15371 (CV-Z “Happy”

Squadron: 368th FS, 359th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, RAF East Wetham

Date of loss: 19 March 45

Area of loss: Germany, 20 miles east of Leipzig (Doberschütz)

ETO

March 1945.  In this the third year of the combined Allied air campaign against Nazi Germany, the Allies reign the skies.  Day- and night the distant thunder of thousand plane raids headed for the heart of the Reich can be heard throughout the heartland of continental Europe.  Ground forces pushing through weakening German resistance on both fronts while over head contrails from B-17s, B-24s, P-47s and P-51s are etched across the sky.  No where can be considered sanctuary for German aircraft as the Mustang and Thunderbolts range freely over German territory.  Even the wonder weapons like the Me-262 jet fighter find themselves being shot down over their home airfields.  The end is very near.

In an area east of the industrial center (what remains that is) of Leipzig, a solitary P-51 is engaged in a duel with an Me-262 over the snow covered fields. It is a truism, borne through the ages of aerial combat that there is no margin for error in fighter combat.  High speeds, g-forces, blinding sun, and so many other factors can combine to cause a moments hesitancy or a temporary loss of situational awareness, all of which comes to a crashing end in flame and thunder.

Nearby Mustangs saw two aircraft crash in the fields – one German, one American.  The spot was marked, but since it was behind Russian lines, no Americans would be able to get to the crash site to ascertain if there was a survivor or if remains could be recovered.  Indeed, just a few days earlier, American Mustangs had found themselves engaged in combat with Russian fighters not far from here.

And so Kentucky native,  19 year old Lt. Clifton Enoch, USAAF a member of the 368th FS for only a few short weeks, was declared missing, presumed dead.  Eight years later, as the Soviet “Iron Curtain” descended over Eastern Europe, it was deemed unlikely that his remains would ever be located and repatriated with his homeland.  In the American Cemetery at Henri-Chappelle, Belgium, Lt. Clifton wa listed on the Tablets of the Missing” and there it was thought the story would, sadly, end.

But it didn’t end there.  An unborn son was left behind with Enoch’s 17 year old wife.  That son is now a 68-year old Framingham, Mass. resident who maintains a memorial to his dad over a mantlepiece. Dan MacDonald of GateHouse Press Service picks up the story from there:

As it turns out, his father’s plane crashed in what would later become Soviet-controlled East Germany, hampering recovery efforts during the Cold War.

Compounding matters, World War II debris was so commonplace in Germany that a crashed plane was unlikely to cause much of a stir.

“You can’t dig a hole in Germany without hitting munitions or pieces of airplanes or something that blew up,” said Enoch. “So there’s just so much there to the local people it’s no big deal.”

The pilots who were flying with Enoch misidentified the location of the crash site, further complicating the search.

“This is no one’s fault. There was no GPS. They were going by landmarks in a country they had never been in before,” said Enoch.

In 2004, German historian Hans Guenther Ploes identified a particular rural area as a potential location of plane wreckage.

In 2006, U.S. government dig teams sifted through the wreckage and found what at the time were termed “possible human remains.”

“It was the Army, they were being cautious,” said Enoch.

The archaeological findings were then sent to a lab in Hawaii for analysis.

The Army studied the geography of the crash, the style and plane identification, and, ultimately, DNA.

“They were trying to eliminate all the other possibilities just to make sure this was my dad’s crash site,” said Enoch.

Now, Enoch hopes for a military burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia by the end of August

Lt. Enoch will be buried with full honors on 22 Sept 2008 at Arlington Cemetery.  In recognition, the governor of Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear as said the flags of the US and Kentucky will belowered to half-staff that day throughout the state.

Welcome home Lt. Enoch – your mission is complete and now you may rest easy in peace.