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JPAC team sheds light on missing crewmembers

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Derrick C. Goode
  • Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
An 18-member recovery team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command here returned Oct. 1 from Vostenhof, Austria, following its attempt to recover remains from two individuals who went down with a B-17 bomber during World War II.

On May 10, 1944, U.S. Army Air Force pilot 1st Lt. Stanley Dwyer and his B-17 bomber crew were shot down by German fighters over Vostenhof. Eight members of the crew bailed out, but Lieutenant Dwyer and gunner Sgt. John Boros went down with the aircraft and were never recovered.

"The mission of JPAC is to recover U.S. servicemembers lost in our country's previous conflicts," said recovery team leader Army Maj. Mike Legler. "Whether it's Vietnam, Korea, World War II or the Civil War, we are working hard to account for every servicemember lost."

Upon arrival in Austria, the JPAC recovery team was greeted by the family of Lieutenant Dwyer -- his younger brother Harold Dwyer, also a World War II B-17 pilot and his wife Darline; and daughter Kay Hughes and her family.

"Having the family at the site adds a unique perspective to this mission," said Dr. Jay Silverstein, a forensic anthropologist for JPAC. "The firsthand knowledge that (Harold) Dwyer provided about the B-17 bomber was invaluable."

The team, which included an anthropologist, explosive ordnance disposal technician, field medic and German linguist, were deployed for 45 days, which gave it the unique opportunity to get to know the family of one of the servicemembers they were attempting to recover. It also gave the Dwyer family an opportunity to see the JPAC recovery team in action.

"I have really been impressed with the dedication, professionalism and unending determination of the servicemembers on this team," said Harold Dwyer. "I brought my college-aged grandkids here so they could see our military at work; and I couldn't have found a better group of guys for them to spend time with."

Spending time with the family was also inspirational to members of the recovery team. Air Force Master Sgt. Rodney Acasio, the field medic, expressed how having the family there gave him a different perspective on the JPAC mission.

"The Dwyers put a face on this mission for me," he said. "Mr. Dwyer told us stories about his brother, and we got to read a letter his brother wrote describing World War II from the perspective of a young American pilot."

The family had a memorial stone placed at the crash site during a service Aug. 27. Members of the family and JPAC team as well as Austrians from the area, many of whom claimed to have witnessed the crash, held the memorial service to remember the crew members that were killed in 1944.

Senior Master Sgt. Frederick Smith, the team's linguist, said he was impressed by how eager the Austrians were willing to help.

"Some of the witnesses helping us were actually German Nazi soldiers who were trying to kill Americans in 1944," Sergeant Smith said. "Now they're trying to help us find those Soldiers so we can bring them home."

Unfortunately the team did not find human remains on this mission, but JPAC plans to return for another recovery mission.

The family did leave with a sense of hope. During the first week of the mission a 1916 silver dime was found in the crater where a 500-pound bomb detonated after the crash. Of the 10 members aboard the aircraft, only Lieutenant Dwyer was born in 1916. His family is confident that he was carrying that dime, possibly as a good luck charm, on the day his aircraft went down.

The team also found various pieces of life support equipment from the aircraft and other personal effects from the crew.

"I'm a little disappointed that we weren't able to find human remains and have a definitive answer for the family," Dr. Silverstein said, "but we definitely know we're in the right area, and it will only be a matter of time before we're able to bring our boys home."