The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, killed during World War II, have been identified as those of Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Herbert W. Harms. Harms, 28, born in Rutland, Illinois, was accounted for on August 31.
In August 1944, Harms served as a B-17 tail gunner with the 569th Bombardment Squadron, 390th Bombardment Group, 13th Combat Bombardment Wing, 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force. On Aug. 16, 1944, Harms’ aircraft was struck by anti-aircraft artillery during a bombardment mission to Zeitz, Germany. The aircraft crashed just outside the village of Cauerwitz, Germany. Eight of the nine crewmembers of the “Dottie III/Green Banana” safely bailed out of the aircraft, were captured and held as prisoners of war before being returned to duty. None of the surviving crewmembers reported seeing Harms leave the aircraft, though most believed he jumped before the crash. A German report listed Harms as having died in the crash.
In June 1947, American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) personnel disinterred the remains of one unknown American from a corner of the civilian cemetery in Thierbach, Germany. According to the Narrative of Investigation, the AGRC team had learned from the cemetery caretaker that a plane had crashed and local residents had found remains. Following the exhumation, the remains, which could not be identified, were buried at U.S. Military Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium, as X-5882 Neuville. In 1948, the remains were disinterred for reprocessing, and were again declared unidentifiable. They were subsequently reburied.
In September 1947, an AGRC team visited Cauerwitz, Saxony-Anhalt to investigate Harms’ loss. The team examined the crash site with the local Burgermeister (mayor) who told investigators that the aircraft had come from the direction of Zeitz and some crewmembers parachuted from the aircraft. The team did not learn about any burials of American casualties in nearby towns. The AGRC compared previously collected X-file remains to Harms’ medical records, but a positive match could not be made. Based on a lack of information regarding the location of Harms’ remains, he was declared non-recoverable on May 10, 1950.
In 2016, based on a request from independent researcher Mr. Christopher Unitt, a DPAA historian reviewed documents of remains recovered from the area near Thierbach, including X-5882 Neuville. Historical documents indicated that Harms was likely associated with X-5882.
Based on the historical analysis, X-5882 was recommended for disinterment. On Sept. 5, 2017, a team from U.S. Army Regional Mortuary-Europe/Africa exhumed the remains from Neuville American Cemetery and accessioned the remains to the laboratory for identification.
To identify Harms’ remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
DPAA is grateful to the German government, U.S. Army Regional Mortuary Europe/Africa, the American Battle Monuments Commission and Mr. Christopher Unitt for their partnerships in this recovery.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,866 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Harms’ name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Hombourg, Belgium, along with the others missing from WWII. Although interred as an unknown, Harms’ grave was meticulously cared-for for more than 70 years by ABMC. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
For information on funeral services, contact the Army Service Casualty office at (800) 892-2490.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil or call (703) 699-1420/1169.