The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, accounted-for from World War II, are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Robert R. Keown, 24, of Scottsboro, Alabama, accounted for on Nov. 8, 2017, will be buried June 15 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. On April 16, 1944, Keown was a the pilot of one of four P-38s of the 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, on a mission in a P-38 aircraft to escort a B-25 medium bomber on an aerial search near the mouth of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. The escort planes encountered heavy overcast conditions and charted a course for an auxiliary airfield. The aircraft turned toward open ocean to find a break in the clouds, when Keown and his wingman became separated from the other aircraft. Keown was reported missing in action after all four aircraft failed to return following the mission. Due to weather conditions, no searches were conducted that day.
Due to a lack of information on Keown’s status, the War Department declared him deceased on Feb. 7, 1946. In August 1949, the American Graves Registration Service classified Keown as non-recoverable.
In April 1999, the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery turned over possible human remains to investigators from the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii. The remains had reportedly been found amid wreckage from an airplane crash. In August and September 2015, Pacific Wrecks, Inc., through a partnership with DPAA, interviewed witnesses and surveyed a crash site that possibly correlated an account by local farmer Soka Dodon, who reported finding remains on his land in the 1980s, before burying the remains in the Torik Village Cemetery. In the 1990s, Dodon exhumed the remains and turned them over to a relative, John Bonding, a resident of Kikiapa Village.
To identify Keown’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) analysis, as well as anthropological analysis, and circumstantial evidence.
DPAA is grateful to Mr. Soka Dodon, Mr. John Bonding, the Papua New Guinea Government and Pacific Wrecks, Inc., 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 72,917 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Keown's name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site, 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.