A Long Road Home
Volume 55 Number 6, November/December 2002
by William Belcher
The remains of a WWII pilot found in the mountains of Papua New Guinea are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
|In 1944, 2nd Lt. George Phillip Gaffney, Jr., disappeared while flying a mission over New Guinea in his P-47 Thunderbolt. (Courtesy Patricia Gaffney-Ansel) [LARGER IMAGE]|
It had been raining since mid-morning and the gray clouds clung to the jagged ridge line of the Finesterre Mountains, on Papua New Guinea's north coast. From our makeshift camp, 8,000 feet up on the mountainside, we could still see down to the old World War II aerodrome called Saidor, which now serves as a local airstrip. Despite the foul weather, our team focused on excavating the scattered remains of an aircraft, probably of a lost P-47 Thunderbolt that took off from Saidor and never returned.
I had come here in early October 1998, as part of a search and recovery team from the U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI). New Guinea was a major theater in WWII. To the north and west were the Japanese-occupied Philippines, to the southeast the Coral Sea, where one of the war's pivotal naval battles was fought. Our team had already investigated a P-47 crash site in the central part of the island where we recovered the pilot's remains, and now we were at the second of three sites to be checked.
William Belcher is a civilian forensic anthropologist at the U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, and is co-director of the excavations at Harrapa. The author would like to thank CILHI colleague Helen Dockall and Patricia Gaffney-Ansel for their contributions to this article.
For more on the work of the U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, see www.cilhi.army.mil. The website has frequent updates about search and recovery missions, repatriations, and identifications. More about Patricia Gaffney-Ansell's search for her father, can be found at www.ideasmith.com/gaffney, and for the subject more generally, see the website of the American World War II Orphans Network at www.awon.org. For the analysis of human remains, see S.N. Byers, Introduction to Forensic Anthropology (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2002).
© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America