Review of Archives Flooded in 2011 Turns Up WWII Clue

1944 report found in archive may have led to missing American's remains
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 18, 2022 2:59 PM CDT
1944 Report Found in Archive May Lead to Missing US Flyer
Retired Thai Air Chief Marshal Sakpinit Promthep looks at a WWII-era local Thai police report in the archive room of the Thai Air Force Museum in Bangkok.   (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The remains of an American airman who went missing in action in World War II may finally be on their way home, thanks to a chance discovery of records in flood-threatened archives in Thailand. US and local authorities held a solemn ceremony Wednesday at an air base in eastern Thailand to honor and repatriate remains recently recovered from a rice field in the north of the country, the AP reports. At the U-Tapao naval air base on Thailand's eastern seaboard, military personnel along with Thai and American officials paid their respects. A casket containing the discovered remains was draped in the US flag before being taken to the US aboard a C-17 transport plane.

Tests at a special laboratory in Hawaii will determine if the remains are human and possibly identify the person. But circumstantial evidence has raised expectations that the casket holds a long-lost service member from the US Army Air Forces. "We owe it to the families to find those answers, to bring those people home," said Marine Col. Matt Brannen, who heads the Indo-Pacific directorate of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the US body tasked with finding the war missing. Thailand was officially allied to Japan in World War II and occupied by its military, making it a target for British and US bombers. Inevitably, Allied aircrew were lost in action.

Today, just a few American flyers who disappeared over Thailand are unaccounted for. As time passes, the chances of finding them all but vanish—unless something extraordinary happens. In 2011, floods inundated Thailand's Air Force Museum in Bangkok. Retired Thai Air Chief Marshal Sakpinit Promthep, who indulged his passion for war history by working part-time in the archival section, spent months afterward going through its files to check their condition. That’s how he came across a handwritten police officer's report dated November 1944.

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It detailed the crash of a US P-38 plane, reported to have been struck by lightning during a storm. It sparked a "Eureka!" reaction for the history buff who'd heard rumors of a World War II plane crash in Lampang province. "This is what I am looking for,” he said. Crucially, the report in the archive gave a precise location. In February, a joint US-Thai team dug in a rice field in Lampang's Mae Kua village. By April, the team had found small metal fragments consistent with a crash as well as bits of teeth and bone. (More missing soldiers stories.)

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