Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pacific jungle yields WWII airman's remains

Dennis Wagner, USA TODAY 

Daughter Diana Young Long tells the story of the recovery of her father's remains. 
Just a hole in her life. Growing up fatherless. Secretly wondering what he was like and whether, despite a death certificate, he might someday show up.
Seven decades elapsed. Then, in March, Diana Young Long got a call from the Army: Some of her father's remains had been recovered from the jungle wreckage and identified with DNA evidence.
He was coming home with full military honors.
Wednesday afternoon, with bagpipes playing at Prescott National Cemetery, 1st Lt. Herbert V. "Buddy" Young Jr. was buried.
"It's been real emotional," says Young, 71, her eyes full of tears.
"I always wanted a dad. But I had my mom and my brother. So there were the three of us."
The odyssey has many chapters, many mysteries. And time has erased most of the details.
They were both born in Jerome — Zoeleen McLain and Herbert Young — and grew up classmates at Clarkdale High School. Buddy, a heartthrob, was captain of the football and basketball teams. Zoe was Miss Prescott.
The exact date is uncertain, but they married in 1941, just months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Like thousands of young Americans, Buddy signed up to fight. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces and became a pilot. Military records show he earned his wings at Williams Field, the old flight-training center in Mesa, and joined the 5th Air Force Command, 90th Bomber Group, 321st Bombardment Squadron.
In a black-and-white photo, apparently taken before Buddy shipped out, the sweethearts resemble Hollywood film stars. Zoe was two months pregnant.
Joyce McLain Peters, Zoe's sister, recalls Buddy's letters from overseas — thoughtful and funny. In some of them, he talked about the unborn child his wife was carrying.
"He was just such a sweet, clever, handsome guy," adds Joyce, who still lives in Prescott. "I thought the world of him."
By April 10, 1944, according to family lore, Buddy Young had flown 300 hours of combat missions and was scheduled to come home. Instead, he volunteered to fill in as co-pilot next to 1st Lt. Bryant E. Poulson aboard a B-24 bomber nicknamed "Hot Garters."
"I always heard he was not supposed to be flying," Diana says softly.
Poulson and his 11-man crew led the squadron's attack that day against Japanese installations at Hansa Bay on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea. A declassified account from the battle was written by 1st Lt. George R. Anderson, who was No. 2 in the flight formation at 10:45 a.m.
"Lt. Poulson had apparently settled down on his bomb run, and I would say about 30 seconds before his release, point ack-ack started to burst all around him. Number two engine seemed to be hit and flames came back way past the tail . ... I saw the bombs being salvoed. Lt. Poulson then started a gradual turn to the left and I saw the bombs being salvoed. ...
"The left wing folded up and the plane disintegrated. It was at approximately 10,000 feet. Five parachutes were seen to open. I followed the plane down and continued to circle until all five chutes were on the ground. The plane was still burning on the ground when we left the scene, and we could see two of the men moving about."
Over the next few days, searches proved fruitless.
Weeks later, however, Guineans near Nubia Village told an Australian military officer that four fliers had survived the crash, though badly burned. A report by Lt. W.A. Macgregor says natives described how an enemy patrol captured the men:
"After binding the Americans, the Japanese beat them with pieces of timber and tried to induce the natives to do so. The natives say they refused."
The prisoners were marched toward a Japanese base. Villagers recounted that one American, unable to continue, was shot. Over the ensuing days, another was beaten to death. A third apparently died of injuries. A fourth was shot. There is no account of the fifth parachutist.
All 12 crewmen were listed as missing in action. Two years later, they were presumed dead.
A non-profit uncovered Buddy Young’s remains after it began to investigate WWII crash sites in Papua New Guinea.(Photo: Final Search and Recover Report)
Back in Arizona, Diana collected snippets of information that a child hears growing up.
She stayed sometimes with her father's parents, but Grandma struggled with Buddy's death and couldn't talk much about him.
Zoeleen remarried, divorced and married again. But for Diana, stepdads never filled the fatherly void.
The remark does not come out as a complaint, but a matter of fact. She lived a full life, including 20 years as a cosmetologist and 20 more in banking.
She retired in Lake Almanor, Calif., with her husband, Greg Long. Remnants of a wrecked bomber 7,000 miles away were faint history. Diana was unaware that PacificWrecks, a non-profit organization dedicated to researching World War II crashes and battles, had begun collaborating with the Army on recovery expeditions in 2001.
Over the next 13 years, according to military records, a series of at least four archaeological excavations were carried out, each one uncovering remains along with artifacts such as belt buckles, coins and ammunition. Graves of at least two parachutists were located.
Diana said she learned of the discoveries several years ago. She'd waited a lifetime and was not impatient.
Finally, this spring, the U.S. Army advised her that bones and teeth were being compared with DNA samples taken from Buddy's sister before she died. Did Diana want to know the results?
Zoeleen and Buddy Young married in 1941. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Buddy signed up for the Air Force.(Photo: Courtesy of family)
She begins to cry, thinking of the next phone call: The DNA matched.
Her father was coming home.
Weeks ago, there was a ceremony at Diana's home in California.
Along with medals, the Army gave Diana a thick book containing detailed military records of the crash and subsequent recovery efforts.
About 300,000 Americans died in World War II combat, and more than 70,000 were unaccounted for. As Diana paged through the volume this week, grateful for a tangible keepsake of the dad she never knew, her face clouded with melancholy.
"I just find it extremely sad," she says. "A waste. Not just him, but all of these young men dying."
On Wednesday, nearly 100 attended her father's interment, about 20 family members among them. A bugler played taps. The honor guard delivered a 15-gun salute. Pastor Bob Hanson, a veteran who served in Korea and Vietnam, read Psalm 23.
"Now he's back in these beautiful mountains and valleys where he grew up," the minister said, "surrounded by people who love him."
His casket was lowered into the ground. A gravestone lay nearby with Buddy's name and a brief epitaph: "Killed in Action April 10, 1944. Welcomed home Oct. 15, 2014"
There is one last chapter: Next spring, unidentified remains and relics from the crash site are to be buried in a single grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Wagner also reports for The Arizona Republic

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