P-38L

The ‘MIA Returned’  series of posts has sort of grown on its own accord and as such, has become one of our favorties.  For new readers, whenever the remains of American servicemen are recovered and positively identified through a complex and rigorous DNA process, the DoD’s POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) issues a short announcement of that fact, usually providing (sparse) background surrounding the nature of the loss and MIA status.  This, of course, after the surviving family has been notified and the remains turned over.  Most of the focus has been on Vietnam MIAs although increasingly we see the circle expanded to include Korea and World War II – the latter especially now that access to the fomerly Soviet-occupied part of Europe is available again (we had on such posting on a Mustang pilot lost over what became East Germany not too far back).

Today’s post is similar in that we have another Army Air Force pilot from WW II whose remains were located in France and have since been repatrioted.  And here’s where the story gets interesting.  Usually we expand on the sparse details of the action via our own library and extensive online search, but the circumstances surrounding this case were quite extraordinary and our own research was found wanting, hence last week’s plea as part of Flightdeck Friday.  Answering the call is Gary Koch, the official historian of the 474th FG Association to whom exceptional credit is due – not only for the background material he presented, but his own role in the case.  We’ll let you, good reader, see for yourself below… – SJS

The Official Press Release

2nd Lt PackardAirman Missing in Action from World War II Identified

10/24/2008 – WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office officials announced Oct. 21 that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and returned to his family for burial.

2nd Lt. Ray D. Packard of the Army Air Forces from Atwood, Calif., was buried Oct. 22 with full military honors in Prescott, Ariz.

Representatives from the Army met with Lieutenant Packard’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.

Flight Path 24Aug1944Battle-space

Temporary Airfield #1 - A11 similarOn Aug. 25, 1944, Lieutenant Packard was a pilot in a flight of 22 P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft that left the allied airfield at St. Lambert, France, to attack enemy airfields near Laon-Chambry, France. Enroute to their target, the fighter group was intercepted by more than 80 German fighters near Beauvais, France. During the ensuing dogfight, 11 P-38s were shot down, including Lieutenant Packard’s that crashed 15 miles south of Beauvais near the town of Angy. Five of the pilots escaped and evaded enemy capture and two were taken as prisoners of war. Of the four men who were missing in action, three were later recovered and identified, but Lieutenant Packard remained unaccounted for.

estuary_R-Taylor

In 1951, an Army Graves Registration Command team investigated the incident and interviewed a French citizen who said he recovered human remains from a P-38 crash site in Angy. The team also interviewed the mayor of Angy who said that the remains had been buried in a local cemetery, but had later been exhumed and he didn’t know what happened after the disinterment. The team went to the crash site, but only found small pieces of aircraft wreckage.

2006 ExcavationIn 2006, a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command team traveled to Angy to investigate the incident. The team interviewed the son of the French citizen interviewed in 1951. He turned over to the team human remains and other non-biological evidence recovered from the crash site. The team interviewed another French citizen, an aircraft wreckage hunter, who turned over remains and other evidence from an excavation that he conducted at the site.

In 2006 and 2007, JPAC teams conducted two excavations and recovered more human remains, aircraft wreckage and material evidence including Lieutenant Packard’s identification tag.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC used dental comparisons in the identification of Lieutenant Packard’s remains.

And now — the rest of the story:

Hello SJS,

Very nice to hear from you. I just happened to see your post when I was web surfing for intel on VF-114. Judging from the post content, I could tell it came from the DPMO announcement for 2Lt. Ray Packard that went out on the internet on 22 Oct 08. I myself am a retired USAF O-4, but flew a desk as a staff officer mostly at MAJCOMs here and in Europe.

I can tell you quite a bit about the big Black Friday of 25 Aug 44. As for Ray Packard, I don’t have that much information on him yet (and you’ll see why), but here is a brief synopsis you can put on your blog if you like:

On the 25th of August 1944, the 9th Air Force had something special planned. The Allies had continued to gain a larger toehold in Northern France since D-Day. However, progress was being delayed due to the Luftwaffe which still had many bases in France. It was to be on this Friday that the 9th Air Force wanted to deal them a blow that would hasten their retreat back to the Fatherland. It was ordered that all available assets be dedicated that day to attacking any Luftwaffe sanctuary remaining on French soil.

The 474th Fighter Group was assigned three Nazi airfields to attack in the area of Laon, France. They took off at midday from their airfield, called A-11, near the hamlet of Neuilly-la-Foret. It was a dusty little 5,000 foot strip carved from an apple orchard only a few kilometers south of Omaha Beach. The entire formation of 23 P-38Js consisted of 12 ships from the 428th Fighter Squadron and 11 ships from the 429th Fighter Squadron, each plane carrying two 500-pound bombs. Their flight plan was to take them to the city of Evreaux as a waypoint then turning northeast towards Laon. But as with many missions, this one was “Not as Briefed” as the saying went.

Near Beauvais, France, the 474th FG formation was warned by ground controllers that enemy aircraft were in the area and to be on the alert. It wasn’t long after that Lt. George Guyon, a 428th FS pilot, sighted a large formation of German fighters at their 9 o’clock position headed in the opposite direction at roughly the same altitude. The formation of German fighters turned out to be 30-plus Bf109G-14s of III./JG76 being escorted by 10 Fw190A-8s of I./JG26. The Germans were on a fighter sweep towards Normandy. Both formations sighted each other simultaneously. The Germans dropped their external fuel tanks, the P-38s jettisoned their bombs, and both turned into each other in a head-on pass at 11,000 feet directly over Cambronne-les-Clermont. Several ships from both sides went down in that initial pass before the fight broke up into many individual dogfights. The fight had gone on for only five minutes when a formation of 32 Fw190A-8s of II./JG26 happened upon the scene and engaged the furball in progress. This did not bode well for the 474th as this group included several crack German aces and was led by well-known Luftwaffe ace, Hauptman Emil “Bully” Lang. Planes from both sides continued going down in flames with so many parachutes in the air that one 428th FS pilot remarked that “it looked like a 101st Airborne invasion”.

As with most dogfights, the fight was pretty well over not long after it had began. The 474th group leader, Captain Ernie Nuckols, was across the Seine river calling for any P-38s still flying to rejoin on him and head for home. In the end, eleven of the 23 P-38s had been lost (8 428th ships and 3 429th ships). A miracle considering they faced better than 3 to 1 odds against some of the best German pilots in theater at the time. The 474th did not come away empty handed however. They managed to shoot down at least 21 Bf109s and one Fw190, including the Bf109 group leader Hauptman Egon Albrecht. This count was confirmed by intelligence intercepts of Luftwaffe communications the following day that also showed another 5 Bf109s had been badly shot up with two more crash landing back at their home base of Athis, France.

Four 474th FG pilots (Capt. Charles Holcomb, Lt. Joseph Stone, Lt. Jerry Zierlein, and Lt. Ray Packard) were KIA on that mission, five would escape and evade capture, and two were taken as prisoners of war. The crash sites of Capt. Holcomb, Lt. Stone, and Lt. Zierlein were discovered shortly after the war allowing for proper disposition and return of their remains stateside. Ray Packard’s crash site remained a mystery despite a 1951 investigation by the Army of the crash area. It wasn’t until 2005 that the mystery began to unravel. It was then that a French WWII historian and researcher, Mr. Alain Bodel, made contact with the son of a witness (then deceased) who had seen a P-38 crash in his field near the village of Angy on 25 August 1944. Upon interviewing the witness’ son, Mr. Bodel was shown wreckage and bone fragments that had been dug up at the site in the late 1960s during tilling of the field. Mr. Bodel and fellow French researchers did a preliminary excavation of the site which luckily unearthed Ray Packard’s dogtag. Mr. Bodel informed me (as the 474th FG historian) of the find and sent me digital photos of the wreckage. I then notified US Government authorities that we had located a WWII crash site likely belonging to Ray Packard. Shortly therafter, I was contacted by the Joint POW/MIA Accountability Command (JPAC) and coordination was begun that resulted in JPAC site visits in 2006 and 2007 to fully excavate the site. Additional wreckage and remains were found which were positively identified by JPAC this year as belonging to Ray Packard. Ray was given a burial with full military honors on 22 Oct 2008 at the National Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona. All personal effects have been turned over to Ray’s nephew, his oldest living relative.

As for Ray, I honestly cannot tell you much about him. I know he was a young 20-year old fighter pilot who joined up with the 428th Fighter Squadron on 18 August 1944, only seven days before his first and only combat mission. My father, also a 428th FS fighter pilot, recalls him as a tall, nice-looking kid playing touch football with the guys a couple of days after he reported to the outfit. I am now in touch with Ray’s nephew and hope to gain more biographical background on him.

Well, that should be enough for now. And this is a synopsis! There are many, many more details about this fight that I am looking to put in a future book. Attached is the only known photograph I have of Ray. It appears to be a flight school graduation photo. Also attached is a photo of a service the French did to have Ray’s name placed on a village war memorial. The French still, to this day, care very deeply for the WWII vets and especially for those who gave their all. The last photo shows one of the early excavations of Ray’s crash site in 2006.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions and I’ll do my best to answer them. This was a very rewarding experience for me personally in helping resolve Ray’s case. Not bad for something that began as a part-time hobby for me over 15 years ago. I’m just glad Ray’s finally home.

Cheers,

As a baby ‘FO (new NFO for the non-cognoscenti out there), I well remember my first no kidding mission, peacetime at the boat, and if I read the passers-by here correctly, many of you do too.  Ditto your first patrol on foot as a shavetail/butter bar or your first JOOD in hostile waters.

Imagine then, if you will, what it was like to be thrown into combat with odds trippled against you in a confusing, nauseating swirl of flashing aircaft, pounding guns, smoke, flame, sun, sky – it should and must give us pause to think and ponder again on what we as a nation asked our young to do in a great and noble cause, and that in so doing there was a terrible price to be paid.  And in so doing, we must also consider those left behind who looked East (or West) and felt the tug at their hearts, the tear at the corner of the eye as they send silent prayers over the horizon for those they love – only to be met by the dreaded staff car bearing a uniformed representative, or worse still, the awful telegram that begins “The President regrets to inform you…” and finishes “…missing in action, status unkown.”

Now, for one family at least, that chapter may finally be closed.  2nd Lt Packard was laid to rest in his native land on 22 Oct 2008.

Welcome home and rest easy now…your mission is complete.

http://www.station131.co.uk/55th/images/Art/P38Sunset.jpg

6 Comments

  1. Rich R

    Thank you Maj Koch for the details and your service,
    Thank you SJS for the series and your service.
    Godspeed Lt Packard and the MIA’s in the series.

  2. Emily Miller

    My great uncle was Jerome Zierlein. He was the twin brother of my maternal grandmother. As he died so young, without a family, there were not many to remember his memory besides my grandmother. She has been gone for 20 years. I will do my best to ensure the service of Lt. Jerome Zierlein and his fellow servicemen are never forgotten.

  3. Emily:

    Thank you for stopping by and especially for your dedication in promoting the memory of your great uncle. That too is what we hope to do by bringing these stories to light as we bring our MIAs back home and honor their sacrifice.
    – SJS

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