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ARMY REJECTS PLACEMENT OF MEMORIAL IN ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
21 December 2007

The Army rejected plans to use Arlington National Cemetery as the site for a memorial to 40 soldiers killed in a plane crash in Australia during World War II.

The B-17C Flying Fortress crashed at Bakers Creek near Mackay in Queensland in 1943, marking what officials called the deadliest crash in Australian history and the worst single plane crash in the Southwest Pacific in World War II.

A group of volunteers with ties to the crash, the Bakers Creek Memorial Association, raised private money for the memorial and helped locate family members to tell them the circumstances of their relatives' deaths. Six of the victims were from Pennsylvania.

But the memorial has been without a permanent home since it was unveiled last year. The Australian Embassy has housed it on its grounds in Washington, but that is considered foreign soil.

Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, and two other senators wrote the Army asking that the memorial be placed at Arlington or another appropriate location such as Fort Myer, Va.

John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army, wrote McCaskill back last month saying that placing the memorial at Arlington would take away "ever-decreasing land that is needed for burial purposes."

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 And while Fort Myer had been considered, Woodley said the best option is placing it at the Air Force's national museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. He said the Air Force has agreed to ship it to Ohio.

Bob Cutler, executive director of the Bakers Creek Memorial Association, said Friday the group is weighing its options. The Army long kept the circumstances of the deaths secret, he said, and it should pay tribute to the soldiers on Army property.

"This is a small, small issue but it means a lot to 40 families who have old business with the Army," Cutler said. "They can do better."

While family members were notified of their loved ones' deaths, the circumstances of the crash were kept secret for decades.

The bomber, which had been converted to a transport plane, had been shuttling troops back to New Guinea who had taken leave on the beaches in Australia. One soldier survived.

Documents related to the crash weren't declassified until 15 years after the war ended, but even then the families weren't given additional information. At the time of the war, the military didn't want it known that U.S. troops were in the area of the crash.

The memorial group and Pennsylvania's two senators said it was the deadliest crash in Australian history and the worst single plane crash in the Southwest Pacific in World War II.

The memorial is about five feet high and four feet wide. The base is made of Queensland pink granite donated by the Australian government. There is a similar memorial in Australia.

Posted: 21 December 2007