B-17 Crew Shot Down Over Papua New Guinea In 1943
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced
Tuesday that the remains of nine servicemen, missing in action from
World War II, have been identified and are being returned to their
families for burial with full military honors.
B-17 File Photo
Army Air Forces 1st Lt. William J. Sarsfield of Philadelphia;
2nd Lt. Charles E. Trimingham of Salinas, CA; Tech. Sgt. Robert L.
Christopherson of Blue Earth, MN; and Tech. Sgt. Leonard A. Gionet
of Shirley, MA, will be buried as a group in a single casket on
Sept. 21 in Arlington National Cemetery, along with remains
representing previously identified crew members 2nd Lt. Herman H.
Knott, 2nd Lt. Francis G. Peattie, Staff Sgt. Henry Garcia, Staff
Sgt. Robert E. Griebel, and Staff Sgt. Pace P. Payne, who were
individually buried in 1985.
These nine Airmen were ordered to carry out a bombing mission
over Rabaul, Papau New Guinea, in their B-17E Flying Fortress
nicknamed Naughty but Nice, taking off from an airfield near
Dobodura, P.N.G., on June 26, 1943. The aircraft was damaged by
anti-aircraft fire and ultimately shot down by Japanese fighter
aircraft. A tenth man, the navigator and only survivor of the crash
-- 2nd Lt. Jose L. Holguin -- was held as a prisoner of war until
his release in September 1945.
In 1949, U.S. military personnel in the area were led by local
citizens to a B-17 crash site on New Britain Island. Remains were
recovered but couldn't be identified given the technology of the
time. The remains were buried as unknown at the National Memorial
Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. In 1982 and 1983, Holguin
returned to the area and located the crash site. A fragment of the
aircraft nose art was recovered and is displayed in the War Museum
in Kokopo, P.N.G. In 1985, the remains were exhumed and identified
as Knott, Payne, Garcia, Peattie, and Griebel. In 2001, a team from
the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command excavated the site and found
additional human remains and crew-related equipment.
Among forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence,
scientists from JPAC used dental comparisons and the Armed Forces
DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA -- which
matched that of some of the crewmembers' families -- in the
identification of their remains.