A group burial service March 18 at Arlington National Cemetery on March 18 will honor 12 the dozen World War II crew members lost when their bomber was shot down in the South Pacific Theater more than 70 years ago.

The airmen took off from Texter Strip, Nazdab Air Field, New Guinea, on April 10, 1944, on a mission to attack an Japanese anti-aircraft site at Hansa Bay in New Guinea's Madang Province, according to a Defense Department news release. Four managed to parachute from the ill-fated B-24D Liberator when it took on fire, but they reportedly died in captivity. The others were reported missing.

Five years later, the Army Graves Registration Service recovered the remains of three of the missing airmen but concluded the other nine were unrecoverable.

More than half a century passed.

Then in 2001, a U.S.-led team found the wreckage of a B-24D with the missing bomber's tail number. "After several surveys, DoD teams excavated the site and recovered human remains and non-biological material evidence," the news release said.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Feb. 23 that the remains of the following airmen have now been accounted for and are being returned to their families:

  • 1st Lt. William D. Bernier of Augusta, Montana.
  • 1st Lt. Bryant E. Poulsen of Salt Lake City.
  • 1st Lt. Herbert V. Young Jr. of Clarkdale, Arizona.
  • Tech Sgt. Charles L. Johnston of Pittsburgh.
  • Tech Sgt. Hugh F. Moore of Elkton, Maryland.
  • Staff Sgt. John E. Copeland of Dearing, Kansas.
  • Staff Sgt. Charles J. Jones of Athens, Georgia.
  • Sgt. Charles A. Gardner of San Francisco.

Scientists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, including mitochondrial DNA, to identify six of the airmen – Jones, Johnston, Gardner, Young, Moore and Bernier, according to the news release. "To account for Poulsen and Copeland, scientists from DPAA used circumstantial evidence that placed them on the aircraft and accounted for as them as part of the group," the release said.

Young, Moore and Gardner were buried last year with full military honors. Jones will be laid to rest in his hometown on Feb. 28; Johnston at Arlington on March 2.

The group burial service honoring Bernier,Poulsen, Copeland and the other crew members will follow March 18.

Gardner's brother, Theodore Gardner, told Air Force Times in December he remembered the day their father received a telegram stating that Gardner was missing in action.

It was one of the few times Theodore Gardner ever saw his father cry, he said.

"We just had to accept the news and pray that he would be found," he said.

Gardner's burial at Arlington Dec. 4 was an answer to that prayer at long last.

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