On Wednesday, President Joe Biden suggested not once, but twice that the remains of his uncle, Second Lt. Ambrose Finnegan, were unable to be recovered “because there used to be a lot of cannibals” in the southwestern Pacific.

Serving in the U.S. Army Air Force during the Second World War, Finnegan was a passenger of an A-20 Havoc, when, for “unknown reasons, this plane was forced to ditch in the ocean off the north coast of New Guinea,” according to an account published by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting agency. “Both engines failed at low altitude, and the aircraft’s nose hit the water hard.”

“And my uncle, they called him — Ambrose, they called him Bosie… and he became an Army Air Corps, before the Air Force came along, he flew those single engine planes as reconnaissance over war zones,” Biden said during remarks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh.

“And he got shot down in New Guinea, and they never found the body because there used to be a lot of cannibals — for real — in that part of the New Guinea.”

Biden’s claim contradicts the DPAA report, which notes that “Three men failed to emerge from the sinking wreck and were lost in the crash. One crew member survived and was rescued by a passing barge.”

The president’s comments on cannibalism, meanwhile, are not far off. In 1992, nearly half a century after World War II, Japanese historian Toshiyuki Tanaka revealed that he had uncovered more than 100 cases of cannibalism committed by Japanese troops in Papua New Guinea.

“These documents clearly show that this cannibalism was done by a whole group of Japanese soldiers, and in some cases they were not even starving,” Tanaka said.

A translated Imperial Army order from Nov. 18, 1944, described cannibalism as the “worst human crime” and blamed increases in murders and the possession of human flesh by soldiers on a “lack of thoroughness in moral training,” according to the Associated Press.

“In all cases, the condition of the remains were such that there can be no doubt that the bodies had been dismembered and portions of flesh cooked,” one Australian lieutenant recalled after finding the dismembered remains of several comrades.

The military was ultimately unable to recover the remains of the president’s uncle, whose life and service are memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.

“President Biden is proud of his uncle’s service in uniform, who lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told CNN.

“The president highlighted his uncle’s story as he made the case for honoring our ‘sacred commitment … to equip those we send to war and take care of them and their families when they come home,’ and as he reiterated that the last thing American veterans are is ‘suckers’ or ‘losers.’”

Claire Barrett is the Strategic Operations Editor for Sightline Media and a World War II researcher with an unparalleled affinity for Sir Winston Churchill and Michigan football.

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