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The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. civilian, unaccounted for since World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Mr. Peter W. Atkinson, 25, of Berkley Springs, West Virginia, will be buried April 8 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. In mid-1941, Atkinson, formerly in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve, was recruited to be among a small group of American pilots to battle Japanese forces invading China. He was employed with the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), which was officially termed the “American Volunteer Group,” (AVG) and popularly known as the “Flying Tigers.” The AVG consisted of three fighter squadrons, each with approximately 30 Curtiss P-40 single-seat aircraft. In September 1941, Atkinson was training with other AVG pilots at Kyedaw Airfield, a British Royal Air Force airfield outside of Toungoo, Burma. Though most of the recruits were experienced pilots, none had seen combat. To prepare them, the AVG instituted an aggressive training program, encouraging their pilots to carry out mock battles. Atkinson was killed during a training flight on Oct. 25, 1941, when his plane was reported to have disintegrated in a dive. He was reportedly buried in the Airmen’s Cemetery at St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Toungoo.
In late December 1947, an American Graves Registration Service team recovered the remains of three members of the AVG. The remains were declared unidentifiable and were temporarily interred in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Barrackpore, India in January, 1948. The remains were eventually moved to Hawaii in an attempt to identify them, designated as X-633, X-634 and X-635, but identification was unsuccessful. They were reinterred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, as World War II Unknowns.
On April 11, 2016, due to advancements in forensic capabilities, X-635 was disinterred and sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis.
To identify Atkinson’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) DNA analysis, which matched a sister and four nephews; as well as dental and anthropological analysis, which matched his records, and circumstantial evidence.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72, 072 service members still unaccounted for from World War II.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil, find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa or call (703) 699-1420.