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Shirley G. Hodges
Followup to: Was Your Ancestor a Gold Star Mother?
Published: 13 January 2012
By Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

One of the best rewards of being a columnist for the Global Gazette is the feedback that I get from readers. After the article about Gold Star Mothers was published I heard from Nancy Donald of Ontario. She was the recipient of a Gold Star in honor of her uncle, Tech Sgt. Richard R. Sargent, who was lost during WW II. Nancy said that her Grandmother never gave up hope that her uncle would return home. When his remains were found and returned to the States it made the family feel like her wish had come true.

To really appreciate the magnitude of her family's loss we need to look back in time to New Guinea on 16 April 1944. WW II historians will recognize this date as the day that was referred to as "Black Sunday". The 5th Air Force sent out 300 planes on bombing raids. On the way back to their bases these planes ran into a severe weather front. Many planes crashed as a combination of the weather, pilots not being experienced in instrument flying and mechanical problems. By night fall 37 planes were missing or had crashed in the heavy jungle, mountains or water. This was the largest weather-related loss in aviation history. A really amazing fact was that not a single plane was lost to the Japanese on that day.

Photograph of Crew Members with their names was taken in December 1943, Topeka, Kansas
(Click on image for larger view in new window. When open, click on image to enlarge)

In October 2001, the U.S. Embassy in Papua, New Guinea notified the Central Identification Laboratory of Hickam Air Force Base that wreckage of a World War II bomber had been found in Morobe Province. From that time, September of 2007, identification was made for each crew member and relatives were located. No information was given to anyone until later in 2006. The US government then shared a detailed book about the crash site and the recovery of the aircraft and crew with each family. Nancy was contacted in April of 2007.

A group burial for the crew was held at Arlington National Cemetery in September of 2007. Nancy and her family, along with nine other families of the crew were each given a Gold Star. She says that she wears the pin proudly remembering her uncle and all of her family that are now gone.

Crew's Headstone, Section 60, Arlington National Cemetery

The News Release: April 9, 2007
    Ten Missing WW II Airmen are Identified.

    The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of U. S. servicemen, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

    They are 2nd Lt. Raymond A. Cooley, of Leary, Texas; 2nd Lt. Dudley R. Ives, of Ingleside, Texas; 2nd Lt. George E. Archer, of Cushing, Okla.; 2nd Lt. Donald F. Grady, of Harrisburg, Pa.; Tech. Sgt. Richard R. Sargent, of N. Girard, Pa.; Tech. Sgt. Steve Zayac, of Cleveland, Ohio; Staff Sgt., Joseph M King, of Detroit, Michigan; Staff Sgt. Thomas G. Knight, of Brookfield, Ill.; Staff Sgt. Norman L. Nell, of Tarkio, Mo.; and Staff Sgt. Blair W. Smith, of Nu Mine, PA; all U. S. Army Air Corp. The dates and locations of the funerals are being set by their families.

    Representatives from the Army met with the next-of-kin of these men in their hometowns to explain the recovery and identification process and to coordinate interment with the military honors on behalf of the secretary of the Army.

    On April 16, 1944, a B-24 Liberator crewed by these airmen was returning to the aerodrome at Nadzab, New Guinea, after bombing enemy targets near Hollandia. The aircraft was altering course due to bad weather and was proceeding to the aerodrome at Saidor, but it never returned to friendly lines.

    In late 2001, the US Embassy in Papua New Guinea notified the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command that wreckage of a World War II bomber had been found in Morobe Province. Early the next year, a JPAC team surveyed the site and found the aircraft wreckage and remains. They also collected more remains and Grady's identification tag from local villagers who had found the items at the crash site.

    Later in 2002, a JPAC team began excavating the crash site and recovered remains and crew-related items, including identifications tags for Knight and Smith. The team was unable to complete the recovery, and another JPAC team re-visited the site two weeks latter to complete the excavation. The team found additional remains and identification tags for Sargent and King.

    Among dental records, other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA in the identification of the remains.

    For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, Google the DPMO Web site or call (703) 699-1169
I would like to thank Nancy for sharing this information with us. It is wonderful that they were finally able to find her family member and give him the honor that he and the other crew members deserved. I will think of them the next time I go to Arlington. That is one of the places that I always visit when I can make a trip to that area.

Suggested Reading:

Until next time :)

Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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