It’s a whole new take on the American military’s promise to “Leave No Man Behind.”
A 15-person team from the nonprofit Fallen American Veterans Foundation (FAVF) with the Defense Department, the Coast Guard, and Google Earth is preparing to embark on the search and recovery of U.S. service personnel missing in action during World War II in some of the most inhospitable parts of the planet.
Their first mission is to find and bring home the bodies of three men who are believed to be far beneath Greenland’s icy surface.
“Our extensive analytics indicates a very specific area indicated in hand-drawn treasure maps, where we actually have an ‘X marks the spot,’” Lou Sapienza, chairman of FAVF, who leads a team of scientists, engineers and explorers on both government and non-government missions to recover the remains, told Fox News.
But right now time – and money – are of the essence. Although they have the commitment of air transport and recovery funding, they are contingent upon the acquisition of funding for the full-field multi-technology scientific survey – of which around $1.5 million needs to be privately raised.
Co-founded by Sapienza with survivors of three U.S. Navy airmen from 1946’s Operation High Jump, which sought to establish the U.S. Antarctic research base, FAVF’s first mission is focused on a U.S. Coast Guard J2F-4 Grumman Duck amphibious biplane, which went down amid rescue operations during a whiteout in remote terrain near Køge Bugt, Greenland on Nov. 29, 1942. The plane was carrying the Coast Guard’s pilot Lt. John Pritchard and Radioman 1st Class Benjamin Bottoms, as well as the U.S. Army Air Force’s Corporal Loren Howarth.
For the U.S. Coast Guard – which has been working with the FAVF team on the expedition since 2010 – it is a far away expedition that hits especially close to home.
“The Coast Guard has offered to provide aircraft and helicopter support for a properly funded and expertly planned search,” Sapienza said. “This is very significant for the U.S. Coast Guard – Pritchard and Bottoms are the last two coastguardsmen missing from WWII.”
Just nine minutes before that crash, Howarth had been rescued from a downed B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber, which itself had been looking for a C-53 that skidded on the ice during a return from a cargo run from Reykjavik, Iceland. During the same mission, FAVF is also hoping to bring back the bodies of those who lost their lives on that C-53.
That plane went down on November 5, 1942 . It was an Air Force C-53 BuNo 42-15569 SkyTrooper transport plane containing five WWII U.S. Army Air Force aircrew and was returning from a cargo run to Reykjavik when an engine problem caused it to belly onto the Greenland ice sheet. Radio communications established that all the men initially survived the accident, but the ensuing harsh weather hindered a successful rescue.
The planes could now be anywhere from 60 to 350 feet below the ice surface, unprecedented recovery depths.
Sapienza noted that when they are working with bodies, the planes – no matter how old and historical – are “considered to be junk.”
“We are only there for one purpose, to recover the human remains,” he said.
Sapienza’s current mission proposal runs up to thirty days on-location, but he is confident that they will find the planes and the men within five to seven days, once they have performed a full site survey using state-of-the-art customized technology.
“Once we make actual contact and have incontrovertible proof we contact the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and proceed to melt a 4-foot wide hole down to the aircraft,” Sapienza continued. “If it is possible, we will extricate bodies at-depth with the utmost respect befitting these heroes who gave this country the fullest measure of their devotion. If we cannot properly respectfully extricate the bodies at depth, we will bring the fuselage to the surface to do it.”
“We have to be in the right place at the right time with the right technology and team on the 1st of April – the earliest that the Greenlandic government will allow an expedition onto the remote site 116 miles southwest of Kulusuk, Greenland,” Sapienza added.
While these missions are next on the agenda, they are only the tip of the iceberg. As it stands, FAVF has solid data on the locations of about 100 men waiting to be brought home.
“We are working with another group that has very, very detailed information on an aircraft off the coast of Alaska that we know contains either the remains of about 28 service personnel enroute to the Korean Conflict during the 1950s or former U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs,” Sapienza said.
Boggs, while in office as Majority Leader, disappeared in 1972. The remains of the twin-engine aircraft he had been flying in over the Alaskan sea has never been found.
In another planned endeavor, a Vietcong colonel will lead their team to the site of five undocumented battlefield graves buried in artillery shell and bomb craters.
“FAVF missions typically lie outside the recoveries normally undertaken by the Department of Defense. I believe that it our responsibility to undertake even the more difficult recoveries and to Honor the Promise of ‘Leave No Man Behind,’” Sapienza added. “The families are waiting.”