In a remarkable development, forensic scientists have successfully identified the remains of 2nd Lt Gilbert Haldeen Myers, a co-pilot missing since a B-25 bomber crash during World War II in Sicily nearly eight decades ago. This collaborative effort between Cranfield University and the US Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA) has not only brought closure to the family of 2nd Lt Myers but also paid tribute to his service with a burial featuring full military honors.
The fateful incident occurred on a summer’s day in July 1943 when a USA B-25 Mitchell bomber departed Tunisia in North Africa for a mission to target the Sciacca Aerodrome in Sicily, Italy. On board the aircraft were six crew members, including 27-year-old 2nd Lt Gilbert Haldeen Myers, hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and serving in the 381st Bombardment Squadron, 310th Bombardment Group.
As the bomber approached its designated target, it came under anti-aircraft fire, leading to a loss of altitude and a crash in a field approximately one and a half miles from the aerodrome. While one crew member managed to bail out before the crash, the remains of 2nd Lt Myers were never recovered, resulting in his designation as missing in action, with no survivors or records of prisoners taken.
For decades, Myers remained one of the approximately 72,000 American personnel unaccounted for from World War II. In 1947, initial search and recovery operations near Sciacca yielded no leads regarding Myers’ fate. However, in a turning point nearly 80 years after the crash, forensic experts from Cranfield University’s Recovery and Identification of Conflict Casualties team (CRICC) joined forces with DPAA colleagues and embarked on an exhaustive investigation. In October 2023, investigators announced the discovery of human remains belonging to Myers, and through meticulous DNA analysis in the USA, his identity was confirmed.
The Cranfield team, consisting of 20 individuals, meticulously combed the area around the crash site, carefully examining soil to recover fragments of human remains and personal effects critical for identification. Dr. David Errickson, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Anthropology at Cranfield Forensic Institute, emphasized the challenges of their excavation in Sicily and their utilization of wet screening to analyze found items.
Identification at the DPAA involved not only DNA analysis but also the consideration of anthropological and circumstantial evidence uncovered by the Cranfield team. The recovery of Myers’ remains not only enabled a proper military honors burial but also facilitated the return of any personal effects found, ultimately providing closure for the families of those missing or killed in action.
Myers’ name, previously on the Walls of the Missing at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, will now have a rosette added to signify that he has been accounted for. In a poignant ceremony held ahead of Remembrance Day, he was laid to rest in St. Petersburg, Florida, on November 10.
Dr. Nicholas Márquez-Grant, a Forensic Anthropologist at Cranfield Forensic Institute, reflected on the significance of this excavation and the privilege of contributing to the quest to locate a missing serviceman. He acknowledged that such excavations could sometimes yield nothing or remain inconclusive, making the discovery of even a small piece of evidence crucial in identifying an individual.
This remarkable achievement underscores the dedication of Cranfield University and the DPAA to recovering those who have gone missing in conflicts. It also reflects the ongoing collaboration between the DPAA and European experts in their shared mission to bring closure to families and honor the memory of those who served.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about WWII pilot identification
What led to the identification of 2nd Lt Gilbert Haldeen Myers after 80 years?
Forensic experts from Cranfield University and the US DPAA conducted a meticulous investigation near the WWII crash site in Sicily, ultimately locating human remains belonging to 2nd Lt Myers. DNA analysis, along with anthropological and circumstantial evidence, confirmed his identity.
What was the significance of the excavation in Sicily?
The excavation in Sicily marked a profound effort to recover missing servicemen and bring closure to their families. It involved painstaking examination of soil and the use of wet screening to recover human remains and personal effects.
Where was 2nd Lt Gilbert Haldeen Myers buried?
2nd Lt Myers, after being accounted for, was buried with full military honors in St. Petersburg, Florida, on November 10, ahead of Remembrance Day.
How many American personnel are still unaccounted for from World War II?
Approximately 72,000 American personnel from World War II remain unaccounted for, with around 39,000 deemed recoverable, making efforts like this crucial to resolve long-standing mysteries.
What was the role of Cranfield University in this endeavor?
Cranfield University’s Recovery and Identification of Conflict Casualties team (CRICC) played a pivotal role in the excavation and identification process, working alongside the US DPAA to locate and identify 2nd Lt Myers’ remains.
How does this discovery impact the families of missing servicemen?
The recovery of 2nd Lt Myers’ remains not only enables a proper military honors burial but also allows families to receive any personal effects found, providing much-needed closure for families of those missing or killed in action.
More about WWII pilot identification
- Cranfield University’s CRICC Team
- US DPAA
- Sicily-Rome American Cemetery
- World War II History
- Remembrance Day