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The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today
that the remains of a U.S. serviceman from World War II have been identified and are being
returned to the family with full military honors.
Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Hilding R. Johnson, 20, of Sacramento, Calif., will be returned to
his family this week to be honored in a private memorial ceremony this summer. On Dec. 25,
1944, Johnson was flying a bombing mission near St. Vith, Belgium, when his P-47D
Thunderbolt aircraft crashed after being struck by German anti-aircraft fire. The pilot of an
additional U.S. aircraft flying in the mission reported that no parachute was observed when
Johnson’s aircraft went down. After the war, an investigation conducted by U.S. Army Graves
Registration personnel was not able to locate the crash site.
In August 2006, a group of German citizens located the crash site on the edge of a forest
near Setz, Belgium. The group notified Johnson’s niece, and together they excavated the site and
recovered human remains in 2008. The remains were turned over to the Joint Personnel
Accounting Command (JPAC) for further analysis and DNA testing. In 2011, a JPAC team
completed the excavation of the crash site and recovered additional human remains, aircraft
wreckage, and military equipment. The serial number on a .50-caliber machine gun found at the
site correlated with a weapon on Johnson’s aircraft.
Among forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC
used mitochondrial DNA — which matched that of Johnson’s niece and grandniece — in the
identification of his remains.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died. At the
end of the war, the U.S. government was unable to recover and identify approximately 79,000
Americans. Today, more than 73,000 remain unaccounted-for from the conflict.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing
Americans, visit the DPMO web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call (703) 699-1420.