This presentation is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by Dr. Agamemnon G. Pantel and Mark Noah
Seventy-eight thousand WWII U.S. Service Personnel are still “Missing in Action” (MIA’s) in both the Pacific and European theatres. History Flight, a non-profit organization, has dedicated the last 10 years to the search and recovery of WWII MIA’s. History Flight uses a transdisciplinary approach to the search and recovery of missing U.S. Servicemen from WWII.
A fundamental and initial step in these efforts stems from historical records. Historical records from the military records include battle narratives, medical records, personal letters, aerial photography (from both the U.S. and enemy files), witness interviews and local government authority records. These have led the way to the application of systematic remote sensing surveys such as the use of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Magnetometer surveys, Low Level Aerial Surveys, and Cadaver Dog surveys in areas with the potential of finding MIA’s. Through this methodological approach History Flight has successfully found and recovered over 150 U.S. servicemen in the Pacific and 15 in Europe over the last few years. The location and recovery of missing servicemen from aerial disasters is less daunting than the locating and recovery of ground losses. Aerial crashes research will focus on the location of a downed aircraft and once the wreckage is located in the field, the airmen are usually to be found within the vicinity. Ground losses, on the other hand, may involve a single soldier lost or fallen in an open field covering many many hectares of land. As such, the types of archival data needed for a plane crash, for example, may involve a different group of archives and branches of the military records. Although historical accounts, interviews and narratives often contain cultural, military and/or chronological bias they are still valuable tools which require that these types of archives are preserved and made available to bonafide researchers.
Using the WWII Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific island of Kiribati (previously known as a part of the Gilbert Islands) as a case example, we can show how these resources have been essential in the research process leading to the search and recovery of missing U.S. Servicemen from WWII in ground losses. A second case example will be the site of Briouze in Lower Normandy of a WWII pilot lost in an aerial crash.
Dr. Agamemnon G. Pantel has specialties in traditional architecture, history, pre-Columbian, European colonial archaeology, and remote sensing, with over 45 years of proven experience in the Circum-Caribbean. For the past 10 years he has worked as Senior Archaeologist on the search and recovery of WWII MIA’s with History Flight in both the Pacific and European theatres. He has a PhD in Anthropology/Archaeology from the University of Tennessee, served as Deputy SHPO, State Archaeologist, Cultural Resources Consultant Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, Project Conservator Urban Train Project, and Faculty in the School of Architecture Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico.
Mark Elliot Noah, founded History Flight to preserve and honor American aviation history. Mark is a certified airplane pilot with over 10,000 hours of flying time in equipment from the T-6 to the B-767. He is an Aviation Historian, having received a B.A. with Honors in History from Emory University, Atlanta. He is a CFI and CFII, and holds type ratings in the B-727, B-757, and B-767. At a ceremony in 2015, as a result of his work and development of the History Flight organization and its accomplishments, he was given the singular honor of being named an Honorary Marine.