Given the absolute mess that the news can be in our modern era, and the busy nature of our individual lives, we often forget that so many brave Americans who gave their last breath to serve their country and the world at large have yet to be recovered. Battlefields have never been anything less than chaos, so it is no wonder that recovery can be arduous at best. Every so often though, those dedicated to the honoring of our fallen heroes have their own victories, giving much needed closure to the families left behind.
Aviation Radioman First Class Wilbur Archie Mitts, US Navy
On 10 September 1944, an Avenger with a three-person crew took off from the USS Enterprise to execute a strike mission against Japanese targets. The last time the aircraft was seen, it was falling from the sky spinning violently before crashing into the ocean, all hands lost.
While many attempts were made to recover the remains of the aircraft and crew, it wasn’t until 2019 that an organization called Project Recover was able to bring ARM1c Mitts home. Almost eight decades later, he was returned to his family in Bayside, California, to be laid to rest with military honors. “It’s something I never expected to do,” said his niece, Diana Ward. “This was a longtime coming.”
2nd Lieutenant David M. Lewis, US Army Air Force
“In the summer of 1943, Lewis was assigned to the 345th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 9th Air Force. On Aug. 1, 1943, the B-24 Liberator aircraft on which Lewis was serving as a pilot crashed as a result of enemy anti-aircraft fire during Operation TIDAL WAVE, the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries at Ploiesti, north of Bucharest, Romania. His remains were not identified following the war. The remains that could not be identified were buried as Unknowns in the Hero Section of the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan, Ploiesti, Prahova, Romania.” - Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
American Graves Registration Command and the DPAA began sending remains of unidentified service members from Operation Tidal Wave to a DPAA lab in Offutt AFB Nebraska in 2017. After exhaustive forensic testing, 2nd Lt. Lewis was identified, and in July of 2023 he returned home to his family in northern Texas.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s sad that we lost him," said Vivian Dennis-Monzingo, 2nd Lieutenant Lewis' first cousin and closest living relative. "We wanted to honor all veterans. So many of them gave their lives to the war, and others, all their life they’ve lived with the war,”
PFC Leonard E Adams, US Army
In January 1945, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division sent elements to reinforce five companies attempting to secure terrain near Reipertswiller, France. At the same time, they were being hammered with indirect fire from mortars and artillery, the German forces surrounded them. On 20 January, the order was given to attempt to fight their way out of the pinned position, but their attempt would ultimately fail, and the unit was either captured or killed to a man. PFC Adams was killed, but his remains were unrecoverable due to the active combat zone. While some remains of just under 40 bodies were recovered after the cessation of hostilities, none could be Identified as the young soldier and he was listed as unrecoverable.
In 2021, with the belief that some remains held at Ardennes American Cemetery might be PFC Adams, they were sent to the DPAA laboratory for forensic analysis, which positively identified him. No living family was found, but his hometown of Radcliff, Kentucky received him with the honor and respect he was due.
This list contains only the briefest glimpse into the efforts being undertaken to retrieve our honored dead, and return them home where they belong, interred in the nation they fought valiantly to defend. As the holidays come ever closer, take time to consider these men, and all those who came before and after to secure a future for us and the global community.