In the mail:

Seven Missing WWII Airmen Identified

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


Army Capt. Joseph M. Olbinski, Chicago; 1st Lt. Joseph J. Auld, Floral Park, N.Y.; 1st Lt. Robert M. Anderson, Millen, Ga.; Tech. Sgt. Clarence E. Frantz, Tyrone, Penn.; Pfc. Richard M. Dawson, Haynesville, Va.; Pvt. Robert L. Crane, Sacramento, Calif.; and Pvt. Fred G. Fagan, Piedmont, Ala., were identified and all are to be interred July 15 in Arlington National Cemetery.


On May 23, 1944, the men were aboard a C-47A Skytrain that departed Dinjan, India, on an airdrop mission to resupply Allied forces near Myitkyina, Burma.  When the crew failed to return, air and ground searches found no evidence of the aircraft along the intended flight path.   In late 2002, a missionary provided U.S. officials a data plate from a C-47 crash site approximately 31 miles northwest of Myitkyina.  In 2003, a Burmese citizen turned over human remains and identification tags for three of the crew members.  A Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command team excavated the crash site in 2003 and 2004, recovering additional remains and crew-related equipment—including an identification tag for Dawson.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA – which matched that of some of the crewmembers’ families – as well as dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call 703-699-1169.

But wait — there’s more:

Far away from the battlefields in Sicily and North Africa, far from Guadalcanal and the Solomons and so far from London, Pearl Harbor and Washington DC that it may well have been on the far side of the moon.  Covering terrain that ran from the dank, fetid jungles of the Mandalay peninsula to the rooftop of the world, the Himalayas — this was the China-Burma-India Theater.  The first Americans began flying in theater as part of Claire Chenault’s American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers.  As the war progressed and America entered following Pearl Harbor, one of the challenges to be faced was how to provide supplies to Chinese forces fighting the Japanese in the interior of China.  The main road road from Burma to China had been cut when Burma fell to the Japanese Army in the spring of 1942.  The only way to get supplies to Chiang Kai-shek’s forces was to fly it in while plans were drawn up to recapture northern Burma and build a new road.

Building on the experience of CNAC and Pan American Airways whch had been operating in the area since the late 1930s, the Army’s Air Transport Command, using elements of the 10th Air Force, began flying cargo “over the Hump” in late 1942.  By the spring of 1944 the lift effort had substantially grown and was beginning to look to supply the first B-29 missions operating from China to try and attack the Japanese homeland (a story for another day).  Initially, C-47 Skytrain’s and C-46 Commando’s were used to fly the routes — with the nod going to the Commando for it’s higher service ceiling than the C-47 and pressurized cabin.  Later heavier lift C-54’s were added, replacing war weary bombers and their cargo variants and the C-46 on the riskier portions of the route.

Airlift Routes in the CBI Theater

As such, the C-47s continued in the southern, and no less challenging parts of the theater.

Burmese Combat Theater of Operations (click to enlarge)

Hard on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River lies the city of Myitkyina.  Literally meaning “near the big river,” Myitkyina is the northern most terminus for rails and river traffic – anything going north would have to be brought in by portage, mule or small boat around the lower elevations, the terrain is just too rugged for anything else.  As such, Myitkyina was by default, a strategically important position and one that in the spring of 1944 was still being contested for between the 33rd Imperial Japanese Army and Allied ground forces under General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell.

On the 23rd of May, 1944, Adolf Hitler, his mood already foul from an RAF attack on Berlin overnight (Berliners had long worn out calling Goering ‘liar’)  throws a major rage when at a factory tour he learns that Me262 jets are being produced as fighters — not a bomber that could be used against the expected Allied invasion fleet.  B-17 and B-24 bombers of the Eighth Air Force attack rail-yards and airfields across occupied northwestern Europe while their smaller kin, A-20 and B-26 tactical bombers and P-47 and P-51 fighters fan out to extend the damage to the transportation infrastructure, all in support of the coming month’s invasion.  In the English Channel, Royal Navy motor torpedo boats sink a German minesweeper while RN destroyers chase away an attempted mine-laying operation by a group of German S-boats off Brighton.  On the Italian peninsula, Allied forces throw themselves against the Gustav line as the Germans dig in to make a stand for the Italians and in the Pacific, the Japanese garrison on Wake is under attack by CTG 58.3 led by the USS Essex and across the Solomons, sea- and air-assaults on Japanese forces continue unabated.

Air drop to troops in Burma (Photo: William Vandivert./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images Jan 01, 1944)

At an airfield outside Dinjan, India the last part of the pre-flight inspection is underway.  The object – a long-in-the-tooth veteran C-47A Skytrain (aka Dakota).  Belonging to the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 62nd Troop Carrier Group, they are recent arrivals in theater from operations in the Mediterranean.  The war was definitely heating up in the Imphal Valley and around Myitkyina.  Today’s mission would bring desperately needed supplies to the troops engaged around Myitkyina.  Capt Joseph M. Obilinski, already a decorated airman (DFC and Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for operations in the Mediterranean Theater) and a native of Chicago, Illinois would be the mission pilot.  Accompanying him were the rest of his crew and cargo support personnel three members of Merrill’s Marauders(*) :

  • 1st Lt. Joseph J. Auld, Floral Park, N.Y.;
  • 1st Lt. Robert M. Anderson, Millen, Ga.;
  • Tech. Sgt. Clarence E. Frantz, Tyrone, Penn.;
  • Pfc. Richard M. Dawson (*), Haynesville, Va.;
  • Pvt. Robert L. Crane (*), Sacramento, Calif.;
  • and Pvt. Fred G. Fagan (*), Piedmont, Ala.

The flight would depart to the southeast, climbing over the Singpho and Namkiu mountain ridges enroute.  The terrain would vary wildly from the flat flood plains in India to mountain peaks over 20,000 ft tall, challenging the C-47 and its limited service ceiling.

Route of Flight (23 May 1944)

No one knows for certain what happened to the flight, except that it never arrived as expected.  Weather, the enemy, airframe fatigue — any of those or combination thereof could have conspired against them.  The inhospitable terrain was (and still is) notorious for hiding wreckage and remains — and over time, erasing all traces thereof.  Eventually a few aircraft dataplates and more importantly, dog tags and some human remains (likely bone fragments) made their way to the dedicated members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command from a site northwest of the combat area.

View looking southeast towards the approximate location of the crash site (height of eye - 20,000 ft)

A citation for the 64th Troop Carrier Group and 4th Troop Carrier Squadron best summed the intensity of operations — and losses endured.  Welcome home all – may you and your families find the peace and rest you so richly deserve.

DISTINGUISHED UNIT CITATION

For action in the China-Burma-India Theater

WD GO 82, 1944

April 7 to 15 June 1944

The 64th Troop Carrier Group and the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 62nd Troop Carrier Group are cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations during the period 7 April to 15 June 1944. On 1 April 1944, the 64th Carrier Group and the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron were ordered from their stations in the Mediterranean Theater to India to give desperately needed support to isolated Allied units fighting in the Imphal Valley and Myitkyina areas. Complying with utmost speed, the C-47’s were dropping supplies to the surrounded forces within 6 days after take-off from Italy. Realizing that a defeat in this sector would imperil the entire Allied effort in India and China, air and ground personnel of the troop carrier squadrons valiantly and perseveringly struggled against the most disheartening odds throughout the emergency to accomplish their mission. Flights were made in the unarmed and unarmored aircraft during daylight and darkness, often in adverse weather over strange jungle and mountainous terrain, where enemy ground fire and aerial attack were continually encountered. Despite the loss of 11 airplanes because of enemy action, inclement weather, and the necessity of operating from inadequately prepared landing strips, all pilots displayed unfailing heroism and tenacity of purpose. During repeated attacks by Japanese aircraft the transport pilots held to course so aggressively and were so skillful in pursuing evasive action that one Zero crashed when outmaneuvered and a second probably was destroyed. Frequently, the aircraft and crews were subjected to hostile fire while landing and unloading on improvised airstrips which were completely surrounded by the enemy. As the crisis intensified, safety precautions were relaxed and Pararacks and parachutes removed to permit the carrying of increased cargo loads. Through unsurpassed determination and endurance, pilots and crew members were able to average 290 flying hours per individual for the two-and-one-half month emergency. Flying more than 6,000 sorties, aircraft of these units transported 35,000 troops, 13,000 tons of food and equipment, medical supplies, arms, ammunitions, and 390 mules, evacuating on return flights more than 3,500 Allied casualties. Through the proficiency and heroic self-sacrifice on the part of each member of the expedition in accomplishing almost impossible feats, the reinforced Allied army was enabled to resume the offensive and drive the enemy from this area. The gallantry, fighting spirit, and outstanding performance in combat displayed by the personnel of the 64th Troop Carrier Group and the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron in these vital operations reflect highest credit on themselves and the military service of the United States.

The seven men from this flight were buried in Arlington Cemetery on 15 July 2010.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks a lot for the blog article.Much thanks again.

  2. Flatlander

    Well done piece. Much appreciated. A fine remembrance in honor of this brave crew.

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