70 Year Journey Home
Search remains for fallen Airmen
On February 28, 1945, with the end of the war in Europe only weeks away, an American B-24 Liberator headed down the runway for a mission to Northern Italy. Their target was the Isarco-Albes Railroad bridge, a conduit for German forces being rushed to battle to the south.
It was during that bridge mission that the bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Other planes reported seeing the plane losing altitude with two of its four engines disabled. Its crew was flying their last mission.
Within months, four bodies washed up and were identified as crewmen from the bomber. Five years later a fifth surfaced. But five bodies remained buried in the deep. Seventy years later the United States is working diligently to leave no man behind.
Divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two and civil service mariners from the Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS GRASP are currently supporting the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for the recovery of the US Airmen who have been MIA since their B-24J Bomber went down off the Italian Coast in 1945.
"That's one of the awesome things about the US military is we keep that promise to bring our people home," said Lt. Joe Harris, Mobile Dive and Salvage Unit Two. "Captured, killed, even now 70 years later we're still out here working to bring our fallen home."
Those killed in the crash were:
2nd Lieutenant Edward H. Betz, Co-pilot (Buffalo, NY), KIA
Technical Sergeant Lawrence W. Brady, Flight Engineer (Tyler, TX), Age 22, MIA
Staff Sergeant James Cox, Tail Gunner (Hopedale, MA), KIA
2nd Lieutenant Clarence L. Dragoo, Navigator (Sandyville, WV), Age 21, MIA
2nd Lieutenant Darrell E. German, Bombardier (Dayton, OH), KIA
1st Lieutenant Howard Hanson, Pilot (Soughton, WI) Age 23, MIA
2nd Lieutenant Richard M. Horowitz, Radar Navigator (Brookline, MA), Age 22, MIA
Staff Sergeant Thomas M. McGraw, Nose Gunner (Lakewood, OH), Age 27, MIA
Technical Sergeant Lawrence F. Nally, Ball Turret Gunner (Pittsburgh, PA), Age 23, MIA
Staff Sergeant Adolph Turpin, Right Waist Gunner (Bedford, IN), KIA
There's an exciting aspect of it, because it's very humbling part of our rate that is unique to our rate," said Navy Diver 1st Class Sean Dargie, Mobile Dive and Salvage Unit Two. "It's a great honor to be a part of it. My grandfather was a pilot on bombers very similar to this, so I feel honored to be part of the promise to bring our service members home."
The team wakes up at about 7 a.m. each day and dives till about 5 p.m. Divers go down and rig up baskets. They take dredging tools and use a fire main and inductor to pull up sand from the sea floor.
"Basically we are vacuuming up sand on the bottom," said Navy Diver 1st Class Ryan Conley, Mobile Dive and Salvage Unit Two. "We grid off the areas and vacuum."
Once we are done we bring up the basket. Once the baskets are on deck, they are shifted through by archeologists.
"That's our bread and butter, salvage diving, hard hat diving paired with this platform," said Harris. "It gives us the space and diving capability to execute a mission like this. It's an honor to be out here with these guys, trying to bring home some of our fallen service members ... knowing the sacrifices these guys made, these guys didn't get to come home, it's an honor to come out here and put our skills to work to hopefully try to bring them home and give their families some closure."