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Burial brings closure to families after 54 years
by Nicole Gearheart Pentagram staff writer
American Memory
From a contemporary press report: April 1998

A group funeral service at Old Post Chapel on Fort Myer followed by a burial at Arlington National Cemetery closed a chapter for relatives of an aircraft that crashed in Papua, New Guinea, during World War II.

The service was for First Lieutenant Owen Buford, pilot; Second Lieutenant. Gerald Hill, navigator; Second Lieutenant Paul Meyer, pilot; Second Lieutenant Jack W. Rosher bombardier; Staff Sergeant Julian S. Miller, gunner; Staff Sergeant James J. Parks, gunner; Staff Sergeant Kenneth Rode, gunner; Staff Sergeant Willard L. Turner, gunner; Technical Sergeant Ned Potter, engineer; and Technical Sergeant Robert W. Witt, radio operator.

According to Shari Lawrence, U.S. Army Personnel Command public affairs officer, on February 29, 1944, the crew of the B-24D Liberator was assigned to a combat mission over enemy targets in the vicinity of Hollandia, Papua New Guinea.

The aircraft took off approximately 1 a.m. in a normal attitude, despite using more of the runway than the other planes and appeared to be climbing at a slower rate than the other planes which had preceded it, according to a pilot of another B-24 on the mission.

About five minutes after the plane took off, a large explosion was observed about 15 miles east of the field.

It was later determined the cause of the explosion was the crash of the aircraft with its full load of ordinance and fuel, but the cause of the crash was never determined, according to Lawrence. A search of the wreckage several days later resulted in the recovery of four out of the 10 crew members -- Meyer, Witt, Miller and Rode.

According to the PERSCOM PAO summary of incident, on August 14, 1951, an American Graves Registration Service Board of Review determined the remains of the rest of the crew were non-recoverable.

In August 1983, a recovery team from the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, surveyed a B-24 aircraft crash site in Papua New Guinea and verified the wreckage was that of the B-24 Liberator flown by Buford, according to Lawrence. Human remains and personal effects were recovered from the surface and shallow topsoil.

Extensive testing of these remains was done. Because of logistics of getting everyone together, the family members were unable to join in a ceremony to honor their long-lost relatives until this week. Nebraska native Charles Witt, brother of Tech. Sgt. Robert W. Witt, said, "I had three brothers that went to World War II, and he was the youngest one and the only one who died." He added, "I enjoyed the ceremony. It finally brought a proper end to the waiting after all of this time."

Dorothy Hogan, of Ohio, cousin of Staff Sergeant Kenneth Rode, agreed. "I was impressed by the respect, honor, sympathy and compassion everyone participating in the ceremony has given to these men during and after the ceremony," she said. "Ken was a loving son and wonderful man. I would have come no matter what to honor him."

BUFORD, OWEN
AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

MEYER, PAUL G
1LT AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

PARKS, JAMES J
AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

RODE, KENNETH W
AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

TURNER, WILLARD  L 
AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

HILL, GERALD R
AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

MILLER, JULIAN S JR
AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

POTTER, NED
AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

ROSHER, JACK W
AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

WITT, ROBERT W
AR United States Army
DATE OF DEATH: 02/29/1944
BURIED AT: SECTION 34  SITE 2466

Air crew: 29 February 1944
Photo Courtesy of Roxsanne Wells-Layton, August 2006

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