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70 Years After Burma Airlift, US Team Tracks Down American Servicemen Remains

  • Anjana Pasricha

Members from Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), hold the POW/MIA flag above a piece of metallic debris during a DPAA investigation mission near Bhismaknagar Village, Arunachal Pradesh, India, Dec. 02, 2016.

A United States team has recovered what could be the remains of American servicemen who went missing during World War II in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh that borders Myanmar and China.

More than 400 Americans who had ferried tens of thousands of tons of gasoline, ammunition and other supplies to besieged Chinese forces holding out against the invading Japanese army remain unaccounted for in India.

That massive airlift over 70 years ago was launched after the Japanese cut off the main land route across what was then called Burma during the war. But many planes presumably crashed as they delivered supplies from Indian airfields over a perilous route called “The Hump” from northeastern India across Burma to Kunming. The hazardous path came to be known as “Skyway to Hell” and “Aluminum Trail.”

Members from Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), conduct a dignified transfer ceremony for possible human remains during a DPAA investigation mission at the Diburgarh Airport, Arunachal Pradesh, India, Dec. 13, 2016.
Members from Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), conduct a dignified transfer ceremony for possible human remains during a DPAA investigation mission at the Diburgarh Airport, Arunachal Pradesh, India, Dec. 13, 2016.

The operation in Arunachal Pradesh to search for the servicemen’s remains has been conducted by the Pentagon’s Prisoner of war/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA). The arduous task involved teams trekking to Himalayan sites over 3000 meters high, across mountain trails that had to be traversed on foot for several days.

“The United States is committed to making sure all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who served our country come home. DPAA’s mission in India is a vital part of that commitment,” American Ambassador to India Richard Verma said in a statement earlier this week.

U.S. Marine Sgt. Brandon Rose assigned to Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), screens soil from a test unit as part of a DPAA investigation mission near Bhismaknagar Village, Arunachal Pradesh, India, Dec. 02, 2016.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Brandon Rose assigned to Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), screens soil from a test unit as part of a DPAA investigation mission near Bhismaknagar Village, Arunachal Pradesh, India, Dec. 02, 2016.

The U.S. embassy said that local residents presented the DPAA team with human remains that had been recovered near the wreckage of the crashed aircraft. The team also found additional remains that could be associated with missing U.S. service members.

“Once approved by the Indian government, these remains will be sent to the DPAA Laboratory with the goal of identification,” the statement said.

This is the second time such a discovery has been made since the DPAA’s mission was launched after a U.S. businessman found the debris of some planes in the thick jungles of Arunachal Pradesh about a decade ago. Some remains found last year in the jungles have been taken to the United States for identification.

Members from Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), remove soil from a test unit as part of a DPAA investigation mission near Bhismaknagar Village, Arunachal Pradesh, India, Dec. 01, 2016.
Members from Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), remove soil from a test unit as part of a DPAA investigation mission near Bhismaknagar Village, Arunachal Pradesh, India, Dec. 01, 2016.

With just a map, a compass and a radio for navigation, hundreds of planes are believed to have lost their way or simply crashed into rugged eastern Himalayas as they coped with storms and high winds.

The mission to locate the servicemen could continue – the U.S. embassy says if the evidence at the site is corroborated with historical records and reports, future missions in Arunachal Pradesh may conduct an excavation in an attempt to recover the remains.

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