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 Capt. George Van Vleet, Jr., 35, of Fresno, California, accounted for on March 19, will be buried August 18 in his hometown. On Jan. 21, 1944, Van Vleet was a member of the 38th Bombardment Squadron, (Heavy), 30th Bombardment Group, stationed at Hawkins Field, Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, when the B-24J bomber aircraft he was aboard crashed shortly after take-off.
Following the crash, the squadron’s physician recovered the remains of six individuals who died in the crash and interred them in Cemetery No. 33 on Betio Island, one of several cemeteries established on the island.
Following the war, the U.S. Army’s 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio between 1946 and 1947. Using Marine Corps records, they began the task of consolidating all the remains from isolated burial sites into a single cemetery called Lone Palm Cemetery. The remains of the crew on the B-24J bomber were believed to be among those moved, however Van Vleet’s remains were not identified and he was declared non-recoverable.
On Nov. 7, 2016, DPAA disinterred Tarawa Unknown X-014 from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
In May 2017, through a partnership with History Flight, Inc., DPAA returned to Betio to conduct excavations of remains of men buried after the battle. One set of remains was consolidated with the remains disinterred from X-014 and was sent to the lab for analysis.
To identify Van Vleet’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used Y-chromosome (Y-STR) and autosomal (auSTR) DNA analysis, which matched his family, dental, and anthropological analysis, which matched his records, as well as circumstantial evidence.
DPAA is grateful to History Flight, Inc., the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Republic Kiribati of for their partnerships in this mission.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 73,906 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Van Vleet’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, site 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.