EDWARDS AFB – The United States Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office lists 83,165 servicemembers missing in action, and of those, 73,520 are from World War II alone. The non-profit Bent Prop Project was invited to Edwards Air Force Base recently to share efforts on reducing those statistics.
“Each of those numbers represents a family and that family is waiting in agonizing suspense; the only cure for this suspense is answers,” said Jennifer Powers, Bent Prop president.
The organization works to find the fallen Airmen from WWII, focusing primarily on the Republic of Palau. According to Powers, there are around 200 missing WWII aircraft in or around the island country in the Western Pacific.
“What we’re doing is looking for missing WWII aircraft and by finding them, that then becomes the gravesite and the grave marker,” said Powers. “We turn over all of our information to the governmental agencies and they are then tasked with recovering, identifying and then returning to the families.”
On April 29, 2010, a ceremony was held at Arlington National Ceremony for servicemembers that were known to be in a B-24 that had been shot down near the Palauan capital city of Koror during the American Invasion of Peleliu in September of 1944.
The B-24 is one of several discovered in the area by the Bent Prop team. Another B-24J’s underwater crash site was discovered in 2004 after 10 years of searching.
Located 70 feet under water, it holds the remains of up to eight crew members on board.
According to Powers, their continuing success is completely dependent on teamwork.
The team is made up of trained specialists and professionals, their expertise ranges from history and aviation to diving and navigation. Their current success story begins in 2005 and will not find its conclusion until the families have been notified in a dignified and proper way.
That was the year they discovered the wing of a TBM Avenger. They thought the rest of the aircraft had to be nearby, but they just could not find it. That is, until two new volunteers gave them autonomous underwater searching devices carrying side-scanning sonar and other technologies. The searching devices could be turned loose for hours at a time. What would take the team a month at best, the devices covered the same area in one day.
“It really becomes clear at the end of the day that technology is absolutely our game changer. Technology is so much the game changer that this year, beginning March 25, within the span of three days the team found and identified two MIA aircraft.”
The aircraft found were the TBM Avenger March 25 and an F6F Hellcat discovered March 28. Powers noted that the Avenger holds as many as three MIAs. Bent Prop holds a flag ceremony over every MIA site discovered. Once the proper notification has been made, the flags are given to the families.
Bent Prop founder, Dr. Patrick Scannon, started searching for MIA Airmen in 1993. Scannon was with a team of divers searching for a Japanese ship that was sunk in part by former president George H.W. Bush. At that time, they were planning for the 50th anniversary of the island of Peleliu invasion. The experience inspired Scannon’s wife who suggested asking local Palauan’s if they knew of any other debris.
Sure enough, they found a man who spent two days showing them areas with wreckage including a 65-foot wing sitting next to an island in two to three feet of water.
“That wing really changed my life,” said Scannon. “What was sitting on top of the wing was a super charger … it says General Electric and I said, ‘You know, I think that’s an American wing.'”
In the following months, Scannon realized the number of airplanes that had been shot down and nobody knew anything about them. That’s when he decided that he was going to do something about it and started Bent Prop.
Scannon shared that over the years, they have become very good a recovering the missing aircraft.
“What we see when we look at these pieces [of wreckage] are magnificent young men waiting to come home,” said Powers. “We’ve seen third generation family members more interested than in the generation that knew them. They are totally unknown to them, but their picture is always on the mantle, you walk in the home there’s always some place in that home where the MIA is front and center. I think that’s what keeps us going.”