The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today
that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from World War II, have been identified
and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Air Forces Technical Sgt. Robert S. Wren, 25, of Seattle, will be buried on March
11 in Issaquah, Wash. Wren, along with 11 other crew members, was ordered to fly a
reconnaissance mission in a B-24D Liberator, taking off from an airfield near Port Moresby, New
Guinea, on Oct. 27, 1943. Allied plans were being formulated to mount an attack on the Japanese
redoubt at Rabaul, New Britain. American strategists considered it critical to take Rabaul in order
to support the eventual invasion of the Philippines. The crew’s assigned area of reconnaissance
was the nearby shipping lanes in the Bismarck Sea. But during their mission, they were radioed
to land at a friendly air strip nearby due to poor weather conditions. The last radio transmission
from the crew did not indicate their location, and searchers that day and the following weeks were
unable to locate the aircraft in spite of multiple searches over land and sea areas.
Following World War II, the Army Graves Registration Service conducted investigations
and searches for 43 missing airmen, including Wren, in the area but concluded in June 1949 that
all were unrecoverable.
In August 2003 a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) received
information on a crash site from a citizen in Papua New Guinea while they were investigating
another case. He also turned over an identification card from one of the crew members and
reported that there were possible human remains at the site of the crash. Twice in 2004 other
JPAC teams attempted to visit the site but were unable to do so due to poor weather and
hazardous conditions at the helicopter landing site. Another team was able to successfully
excavate the site from January to March 2007 where they found several identification tags from
the B-24D crew as well as human remains.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC
and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA—which matched that
of Wren’s niece—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 74,000 are 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) 699-1169.