Thousands of servicemen remain missing. Each war, both past and present, adds more names to the list. World War II and Vietnam saw many pilots vanish and with good reason.
Some of these MIA fighter pilots and their remains along with their planes have been found over these years.
Recovery of William Shank
Lieutenant William W. Shank’s comrades last saw him when his P-38 Lightning recovered after a dive. Nobody saw where he went after that because they were involved in a heated sky battle. Decades went by before the Americans teamed up with a German researcher who ferreted out that the Virginia native had crashed to the north on a farm, and excavations soon recovered bits of plane and human bone. A DNA test in 2018 confirmed that the remains belonged to Shank.
The Pacific Pilot
In 2018, the US armed forces trawled a patch in the Pacific Ocean looking for MIAs. Near the island of Ngerekebesang in the Republic of Palau, they discovered a pilot on the bottom of the sea. His remains were still inside his World War II plane that had been shot down about 74 years earlier. The next step will be to identify the unfortunate Pacific pilot and track down his next of kin.
Italian Dogfight Loser
During World War II, the Italians fought against the Allies, and Lieutenant Guerrino Bortolani got scratchy with US pilots on March 11, 1944. A witness saw his aircraft crash in the countryside in northern Italy. Exactly 70 years later, at a depth of 4 meters (13 ft), they unearthed a Macchi C.205 Veltro, considered to be the best Italian battle plane of World War II. The best discovery was the body of the pilot still sitting in the cockpit. Lieutenant Bortolani, then 27, was one of three Italians and three Germans who came in a fatal second when the Allies showed up for a bombing raid.
The Bauder Family
One night in 1966, James Bauder took off from the deck of the USS Coral Sea off North Vietnam. Those flying alongside Bauder never saw him crash. There was no distress call or any debris. The father of three had simply vanished. His parents and wife died before his remains were found in 2017. At the time Bauder was lost, his daughter, Jane, was four years old. When she received the long-awaited news, she was 55 and her father had been found in the form of a femur. DNA proved that it was Bauder. Jane called her aunt, but she had died days before Jane was informed about her father.
Australian In A French Field
During World War II, Sergeant William Smith served in a Royal Australian Air Force squadron in Redhill.24-year-old encountered an enemy pilot and was subsequently gunned down over the channel off Dover. When a search yielded no wreckage, it was assumed that the plane had sunk beneath the sea. In 2011, a historian, Andy Saunders was browsing in a French field looking for another Spitfire from the war. He soon found a crash site and the right kind of plane. But the moment a body surfaced, Saunders knew that it was not the aircraft he was looking for. Dog tags proved that it was indeed Sergeant William Smith. In 2012, Smith was buried with military honors in France, a ceremony that was attended by his 84-year-old brother, Bert.
Dad Returned To Daughter He Never Really Knew
More than 70 years ago, Lieutenant Robert Mains held his daughter who had just been born. Hours later, he was deployed. While flying a bombing mission over Germany, Mains was shot out of the sky. Tragically, this happened just a few weeks before World War II was about to end in 1945.The Pentagon called his daughter, Barbara O’Brien, in 2017 to let her know that her father’s bones were recovered from a field in Germany, they were sent to the division that handles MIA cases. Once there, tests matched the remains to Barbara’s DNA. He was met at MacArthur Airport with a full military honor guard. His daughter, now in her seventies, attended the emotional ceremony with her husband, a Vietnam veteran. Mains was subsequently interred at the Calverton National Cemetery with full military honors.
The First Tuskegee Airman
The first black US military pilots were the Tuskegee Airmen. They faithfully served in World War II despite discrimination. One Tuskegee Airman was Captain Lawrence Dickson, 24. The married father was decorated with a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart. On December 23, 1944, Dickson took off on his 68th mission, just two flights short of qualifying for leave. On the same day, his P-51 plane disappeared over Italy. No further news came until a crash site was located in 2017. It was in Austria near Hohenthurn, not far from Dickson’s last-known location. Debris in the field resembled that of a P-51, and German records confirmed that one had crashed there on December 23, 1944.
The rubble contained human remains. If analysis can link the remains to Dickson, which is highly likely, then he will be the first Tuskegee Airman MIA to be recovered. Another 26 remain missing.
Pilot Found By Grandson
In 1945, the US Army Air Corps was determined to expel the Nazis from Italy. Lieutenant Loren Hintz was one of the pilots who fought on April 21 and liberated Bagnarola. When the dust settled, Hintz was nowhere to be found. Nobody knew it, but a 12-year-old Italian boy had seen his P-47 go down. Hintz left behind a nine-month-old daughter who grew up and had a son called Hans Wronka. Hans set out to find the grandfather he had never known and traveled to Italy. On his second visit to Italy, a remarkable thing happened. In 2016, Hans met the 12-year-old witness, now an old man, who led Hans straight to the site where the P-47 crashed over 70 years earlier. Then, the plane’s machine guns, frame, and engine were unearthed. Finally, as Hans watched, dog tags were lifted away from human bones. The name embossed on each was “Lt. Loren Hintz.”