28 May 2007

Memorial Day Remembrance – Ploesti Raid Aircrewman Returns Home

Others remember too:

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced 11 May 2007, that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

He is 1st Lt. Archibald Kelly, U.S. Army Air Forces, of Detroit, Mich. He was buried on May 12 in Great Lakes National Cemetery, Holly, Mich.

On July 22, 1944, Kelly was the navigator on a B-24J Liberator on a bombing raid of the oil fields at Ploesti, Romania. Returning to Lecce air base in Italy, the plane was struck by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed in what is now Croatia, approximately 430 miles southwest of Ploesti. Of the ten crewmen on board, eight survived and bailed out of the aircraft before it crashed. The rear gunner died and his body was later recovered. One of the surviving crewmen saw Kelly bail out before the crash, but said he struck a rocky cliff face when the wind caught his parachute. His body was not found at that time.

After researching information contained in U.S. wartime records, specialists from DMO's Joint Commission Support Directorate (JCSD) in 2005 interviewed residents from Dubrovnik and Mihanici village who had information related to WWII aircraft losses in the area. One resident recalled a crash in which one of the crewmen landed on a pile of rocks on Mt. Snijeznica after his parachute failed to open. He said locals buried the individual. Based on witness descriptions of the burial location, the team searched the mountaintop, but was unable to locate the burial site.

Additional JCSD archival research in Croatia confirmed the earlier information found in U.S. records. In June 2006, the Dubrovnik resident reported to JCSD that he had continued the search and found the grave site of the American serviceman. He sent pictures of both the site and the remains to DPMO. In September 2006, a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) team excavated the burial site, confirming with local villagers that it was the same site photographed by the Dubrovnik resident. The team recovered human remains at the site.

This raid on Ploesti wasn't the (in)famous one from August of 1943, yet it was representative of the many missions flown against industrial and military targets in Europe and the Pacific by the men of the Army Air Corps. On this mission 438 B-17's and B-24's took part with loss of "only" two aircraft. As we pause to give thanks this Memorial Day for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice - for keeping the Union intact, for our freedoms, to extend that umbrella of freedom to others - freeing them from tyranny and oppression, let us give thanks and always remember.

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.

Welcome home Lieutenant Kelly, rest easy now that your mission is complete.