Project Recover had a special success last week. The young organization, founded in 2012, consists of adventurous scientists who are trying to help the U.S. military recover the remains of veterans that have been otherwise impossible to locate. From their website:
The work blends historical data from many different sources to optimize underwater search areas with scanning sonars, high definition and thermal cameras, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies. These new methods are now being applied globally where servicemen are still missing. Information on finds by Project Recover are then transmitted to the U.S. Government Defense MIA/POW Accounting Agency (DPAA), for formal identification, family notification and ultimately repatriation. Project Recover has an expanding footprint, with cases developing for global search and discover
On May 22th, 2018, they located the wreckage of a B-24 D-1 bomber with the bodies of 11 servicemen aboard. The airplane, “Heaven Can Wait”, had crashed off of Papua New Guinea in 1944. Project Recover found the plane, positively identified it, and held a flag ceremony to honor the fallen.
This is not the first success the team has had; they have had three other discoveries in just the last five months of everything from single-person fighters to larger aircraft. This one was particularly satisfying because of the proximity of the discovery to Memorial Day and because of the number of MIAs that could be identified.
What made it unique, however, was Lt. Kelly.
Scott Althaus of Urbana, Illinois is Tom Kelly’s first cousin, once removed, and he had an interest in genealogy – and his heroic relative. From the A.P.:
On Memorial Day 2013 Althaus launched what would quickly become a family-wide project to learn everything relatives could about the young man who grew up thinking he’d be a cowboy but then, inspired by his military service, decided he wanted to be a pilot instead. He was the bombardier on Heaven Can Wait.
“He was a very gregarious man. He kept up correspondence with I think 38 different people stateside while he was overseas. He was just everybody’s friend, very well liked,” said Althaus, Kelly’s first cousin once removed. “It would have been something to see what he would have done after coming back from the war if that had been his outcome.”
The family, having gathered the information on Kelly, then took an unusual step and contacted Project Recover. For the first time, a survivor’s family was providing help… and the help was profound. Again, from the A.P.:
The organization announced the find Monday, and said its search was aided greatly by what the family provided, including eyewitness narratives, military reports, flight documents and even diary entries from crew members on planes flying in formation with Kelly’s when it was hit.
The combination of efforts from a family that wouldn’t forget its members and civilian scientists wanting to honor the sacrifices of patriots has found bodies missing for almost three-quarters of a century, and the military is considering work to finally bring the bodies home to rest on native soil. Not just Lt. Kelly, but ten of his comrades have been found with the aid of the provided information. Moreover, there are believed to be four other missing U.S. military airplanes which are submerged in that general location, and the records may be helpful in finding some of them as well.
Hopefully the success of this mission will inspire other families to gather and provide relevant information about their missing servicemen. It’s now been demonstrated to work, it may work again in the near future.
Until they all come home.
Question for the day (night): If you were in combat, would you prefer to be on a ship, aircraft, or tank?