DPAA In The News

News 2 | Sept. 8, 2021

Veterans dug up a WWII bomber—in hopes of finding peace

By Roff Smith National Geographic

It’s a hazy summer day in southern England, not far from the medieval market town of Arundel, and the Sussex countryside is dozing in the heat. In a pasture on a family farm a mile or so west of the town’s historic castle, an international team of military veterans and archaeologists from the University of York is methodically sifting through mounds of soil taken from a long, deep trench.

The site they are excavating is a surprisingly recent one, given Arundel’s ancient past. It dates from World War II, specifically the evening of June 22, 1944, when an American B-24 Liberator heavy bomber crashed in this field after sustaining severe damage in a daylight raid over France. The dig is shedding light on an unsung—and as yet unfinished—tale of courage, heroism, airmanship and, ultimately, loss.

Of the bomber’s 10-man crew, seven were able to bail out as the stricken plane approached the British coast: Bombardier, gunners, radio man, and navigator all were picked up safely, bobbing in the waters of the English Channel or washed up on the beach. The cockpit crew, however, remained in the plane, struggling to keep the aircraft stable and aloft so their crewmates could exit. The pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer all perished when the plane slammed to earth in a fireball moments after the others bailed out.


The body of the co-pilot, First Officer John Crowther, was thrown clear of the wreck. Found and identified at the time, it was later repatriated to the U.S. to be buried in Crowther’s home state of New York in 1946. The remains of the pilot, 2nd Lieutenant William Montgomery, and the flight engineer, Technical Sergeant John Holoka Jr., were never recovered. The men have been listed as missing in action ever since.

“That’s something we hope to change,” says lead archaeologist Stephen Humphreys, founder of the American Veterans Archaeology Recovery (AVAR) program. Working in tandem with the University of York archaeology department and under the auspices of the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), Humphreys and his team are searching for the remains of the two missing airmen. Anything found will be sent to the DPAA’s forensics lab in Hawaii for DNA analysis and, hopefully, identification. Says Humphreys: “It’s been a long time coming. We want to bring these men home and provide a sense of closure for the families.”

For the rest of the story, visit https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/veterans-dug-up-a-wwii-bomber-in-hopes-of-finding-peace?fbclid=IwAR3c58gswqk_diRxUWmieAYRXtljGhFRtCBw3IAl4e_PDvTp-EPkM0xnVVA