The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, recently accounted for from World War II, are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Navy Reserve Lt. William Q. Punnell, 27, of Flandreau, South Dakota, accounted for on June 23, 2017, will be buried May 2 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. On July 25, 1944, Punnell was the acting commanding officer of the VF-14 Fighter Squadron, departing from the aircraft carrier USS Wasp in his F6F-3 “Hellcat” with several other aircraft on a strafing mission against Japanese targets on the islands of the Republic of Palau. The mission was to strafe the Babelthaup (now Babeldaob) Airbase and the two Arakabesan Seaplane bases. Punnell’s aircraft encountered intense antiaircraft fire over the islands of Palau. His Hellcat was in the lead position when the tail of the plane was seen taking a direct hit. He crashed approximately 300 feet from the northern seaplane base, and his aircraft sank on impact. The other pilots on the mission did not witness Punnell bail out from his aircraft.
Following multiple unsuccessful attempts to locate Punnell’s Hellcat, it was located by the Project Recover, a nonprofit NGO of volunteers and professionals who work with DPAA in the Republic of Palau, in March 2014 through use of modern techniques and scuba diving grid surveys. During a dive on April 2, 2014, a DPAA forensic anthropologist discovered osseous remains in the area of the cockpit. The remains were turned over to the Palau Historic Preservation Office, and then were received by DPAA and sent to the laboratory for analysis.
In April 2015, a DPAA Underwater Recovery Team excavated the site and recovered additional remains and material evidence.
In March 2016, a subsequent excavation was completed by SEARCH, an archaeological contracting firm, where additional remains and material evidence were recovered.
To identify Punnell’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA), dental and anthropological analysis, and historical evidence.
DPAA is grateful to Project Recover and SEARCH for their assistance 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 72,934 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Punnell’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines, along with the other MIAs from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
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) 699-1420/1169.