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 Sgt. Alfonso O. Duran, 22, of El Rito, New Mexico, accounted for on May 22, will be buried August 22 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In February 1944, Duran was a nose gunner on a B-24H Liberator, assigned to the 724th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 451st Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force. On February 25, 1944, the final day of Operation Argument, Duran’s aircraft came under attack by German fighters and anti-aircraft fire, while he was on a bombing mission targeting Regensburg, Germany. The tail gunner in another aircraft witnessed a direct hit on Duran’s aircraft, which tore off a section of the right wing. Nine of the ten crew members were able to bail from the aircraft before it crashed. The tail gunner from Duran’s aircraft reported he had last seen Duran alive in the aircraft, but believed Duran did not bail out. All nine of Duran’s crewmates survived the bail out and were captured and interrogated in Verona, Italy, where they were told that one body had been found in the aircraft wreckage. The crash site was reported to be located near Ljubljana, Slovenia, an area then under Axis control.
Following the war, the American Graves Registration Service, Mediterranean Zone, of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, searched for the remains of U.S. service personnel in Europe, as part of the global effort to identify and return them for honored burial. No remains could be associated with Duran, and he was declared deceased as of Feb. 25, 1944.
In 2006, analysts began research on Duran’s loss after receiving information concerning a B-24 Liberator that had reportedly crashed near the village of Pokojišče, municipality of Vrhnika, Slovenia. A team from the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, a predecessor of DPAA, visited the alleged crash site in 2012 and interviewed residents who reported the remains of an unidentified Allied airman from that crash site were initially buried along the side wall of Saint Stephens Church in Pokojišče, and that the grave was regularly tended to by Mrs. Tončka Dragar, who cordoned it off with stones and regularly laid flowers on the mound.
The team was then shown a headstone erected in 1962 at the back of Saint Stephens Church, indicating that the unidentified Allied airman, by then portrayed as an Australian airman, had been reburied together with four Partisan soldiers, two of whom were also unidentified.
In 2016, with information provided by several private Slovenain researchers, DPAA concluded that the remains were likely those of Duran. Because there was a possibility that the remains were of an Australian, DPAA invited the collaboration of the Office of Australian War Graves Commission (OAWG) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Directorate of History and Heritage.
Upon concurrence from the OAWG and RAAF, and with the gracious permission of Father Janez Šiler, the Parish Priest of St. Stephens, the families of the Partisan soldiers believed to have been buried in the alleged mass grave, the Slovenian Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities, and the Institute for Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, in July 2017 a DPAA recovery team excavated several alleged burial sites adjacent to the church in Pokojišče, recovering possible osseous remains.
To identify Duran’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) DNA analysis, dental and anthropological analysis, as well as material and circumstantial evidence.
DPAA is grateful to the Slovenian Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities, the Institute for Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, the residents of Pokojišče, the several private Slovenian researchers involved, Tončka Dragar, Ambassador Brent Hartley, the Office of Australian War Graves Commission, and the RAAF Directorate of History and Heritage for their partnership 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 72,906 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Duran’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery in Impruneta, Italy, along with 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.