Just over 80 years ago, the skies above Sicily, Italy, witnessed a tragic event that would go down in history. An American bomber, carrying the hopes and dreams of its crew, including Lt. 2 Gilbert Haldeen Myers, shot down during WWII. The plane, lost in the vast expanse of the Sicilian landscape, left an aviator missing in action, as well as the five members of the US Army Air Force crew. For eight decades, their fate remained shrouded in uncertainty.
Now, a dedicated team from Cranfield University’s Conflict Casualty Identification and Recovery Unit (CRICC), together with the US Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA), have cleared up the mystery surrounding Airman Myers , aged 27 years. The team embarked on a mission to locate and recover the remains of the fallen soldier, using specialized forensic techniques to uncover the secrets buried beneath the Sicilian soil.
The CRICC team of 20 forensic experts meticulously excavated the crash site, located approximately 0.8 kilometers from Sciacca Airfield. David Errickson, senior lecturer in archeology and anthropology at the Cranfield Forensic Institute, described the challenging process: “During our operations, we systematically excavated the earth, meticulously examining every piece that might be bone or other evidence.” In the demanding environment of the excavation site, the team used wet screening – a process that involves separating and analyzing human remains and artefacts by passing the excavated material through water.
Among the remains of the plane, the team successfully unearthed human remains. These priceless finds were then transported to the DPAA laboratory, renowned as the largest and most diverse skeletal identification library globally. At the laboratory, forensic anthropologists conducted DNA analysis and, with the help of anthropological and circumstantial evidence collected by the CRICC team, confirmed the identity of the recovered remains as belonging to 2nd Lt. Gilbert Haldeen Myers. The significance of this discovery extends beyond the scientific realm.
“The recovery of 2nd Lt. Myers’ remains not only facilitates a burial with proper military honors, but also allows the family to receive any personal items found. Most importantly, it brings peace to the families of those missing or killed in action,” said Errickson.
Missing World War II airman found after eight decades
The long-awaited lull culminated in Myers’ funeral on November 10 at St. Petersburg, Florida. Myers’ story is one of thousands from World War II, where more than 72,000 American personnel remain unaccounted for, although it is believed that 39,000 of them could be recovered. However, the road to recovery is not without its challenges, as explained by Nicholas Márquez-Grant, a forensic anthropologist at the Cranfield Forensic Institute. He noted, “Sometimes such excavations can yield nothing or remain ambiguous,” highlighting the uncertainties inherent in such efforts.
Post-incident land use further complicates the process. In areas where plowing or land modification has taken place, finds are often limited to tiny fragments. Márquez-Grant acknowledged these challenges, but emphasized that sometimes these fragments hold the key to solving the identification puzzle. The recovery and identification of 2nd Lt. Gilbert Haldeen Myers is a testament to the dedication and perseverance of those involved in the quest to find and bring closure to the families of servicemen who have gone missing and died in conflict.
“In this case, playing a role in the search for a missing serviceman was a profound privilege, bringing peace to the family of Gilbert Haldeen Myers,” reflected Márquez-Grant. Myers’ story serves as a poignant reminder that even after eight decades, the commitment to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice remains unwavering, reports iflscience.com.