World War II Air Crew Laid To Rest
5 March 1944
B-24D-135-CO "Ready, Willing & Able" Serial Number 42-41135
The remains of a ten-man U.S. Army Air Corps bomber crew, missing in action from World War II, have been recovered, identified and returned to their families in the United States. The crew members of the B-24D Liberator are identified as: 2nd Lieutenants Raymond J. Drewelow, Waterloo, Iowa; Edward M. Sparks, Alton, Kan.; James H. Nelson, Tallulah, La.; George R. Ellison, Danville, Va. Also, Staff Sergeants Joel G. Williams, Meadows of Dan, Va.; Salvatore J. Elhai, Brooklyn, N.Y.; William E. Van Camp, South Bend, Ind.; Arthur J. Swartz Jr., Aurora, Ill.; Sergeants Gilbert F. Smith, Princeton, Ind.; and Anthony G. Scaccia, New Orleans, La.
On March 5, 1944, Drewelow was piloting the B-24 on a bombing mission against Japanese targets over the Hansa Bay area of Papua New Guinea. The aircraft and crew disappeared on that mission in heavy thunderstorms. No radio transmissions were ever received from the crew, and subsequent searches did not locate them. After the war, U.S. Army graves registration teams conducted wide searches in New Guinea without success.
In early 1989, the former curator [ Bruce Hoy]
of the Air War Museum in Port Moresby, New Guinea, notified the U.S. Army
Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI), that wreckage of a B-24
had been located in Tauta, Madang Province. Between July 1989 and August
1990, three CILHI teams located, investigated and excavated the site, recovering
remains and artifacts associated with the crash. The remains were transported
to CILHI where the forensic process included the use of mitochondrial DNA
to confirm the identification of each of the crewmembers. Of the more than
88,000 American service members still missing in action from all conflicts,
78,000 are from World War II.
The 10-man crew of a long-missing bomber from World War II was laid to rest yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, closing the final chapter of a 57-year-old mystery. About 75 of the crew's relatives — many of whom were not yet born when the servicemen died — attended a somber funeral at Fort Myer. Only one widow of a member of the crew was present, Violet Mertz, 84, of Salina, Kansas.
She was given the folded flag from the casket containing the remains of Army Second Lieutenant Edward M. Sparks, of Alton, Kansas. Their son, Douglas Sparks, 57, of Littleton, Colorado, placed a hand on her shoulder in consolation. Mrs. Mertz remarried after Lieutenant Sparks was declared dead in 1946.
The remains of the other Army Air Corps soldiers were interred together in another casket. Nine soldiers in full-dress uniforms formally presented flags to their next of kin. Other crew members were Second Lieutenant Raymond J. Drewelow, of Waterloo, Iowa; Second Lieutenant James H. Nelson, of Tallulah, Louisiana; Staff Sergeant Arthur J. Swartz Jr., of Aurora, Illinois; Staff Sergeant Joel G. Williams, of Danville, Virginia; Sergeant Anthony G. Scaccia, of New Orleans; Sergeant William E. Van Camp, of South Bend, Indiana; Staff Sergeant Salvatore J. Elhai, of Brooklyn, New York; Second Lieutenant George R. Ellison, of Danville, Virginia.; and Sergeant Gilbert F. Smith, of Princeton, Indiana.
The soldiers served on a B-24D Liberator bomber nicknamed "Ready, Willing and Able," which disappeared in a thunderstorm March 5, 1944, over Papua New Guinea. Piloted by Lieutenant Dremelow, the bomber had taken off with a squadron at 11:17 p.m. from Nadzab, Papua New Guinea, on a mission to bomb Japanese targets in the Hansa Bay area of Papua New Guinea. No one heard from Ready, Willing and Able again.
After World War II ended in 1945, a U.S. graves registration unit searched for a crash site or graves of the bomber crew and found nothing. The men were declared dead January 25, 1946.
Forty-three years later, European tourists trekking over a mountain range in the Mandang province of New Guinea saw the tail of an old bomber sticking up in the brush. The tail number was that of Ready, Willing and Able. Roger Shortridge of Atlanta yesterday said the wreckage was about 100 feet below the top of the mountain, an indication the bomber was flying too low on that rainy night. Mr. Shortridge's wife, Sandra, is a niece of the crew's bombardier, Lieutenant Ellison.
"All we know, he didn't come back," Jeff Elhai, 49, of Richmond, said of his uncle, Sergeant Elhai.
Although officials were certain the bomber's tail was that of the missing aircraft, the Army waited until it was certain of the remains and that all crew members were in the wreckage.
Between July 1989 and August 1990, three teams
of the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii located, investigated
and excavated the site. The remains were transported to Hawaii, where
DNA testing confirmed the identity of each crew member. More than 260,000
people, most from wars fought by Americans, are buried in Arlington National
Cemetery. About 3,800 of the graves are for former slaves from the Civil
War. About 78,000 service members are still listed as missing from World
NELSON, JAMES H
SMITH, GILBERT F
SWARTZ, ARTHUR J
ELLISON, GEORGE R
SCACCIA, ANTHONY G
SPARKS, EDWARD M
WILLIAMS, JOEL G
VAN CAMP, WILLIAM E
ELHAI, JOSHUA SALVATORE
Photo Courtesy of Roxsanne Wells-Layton, September 2006