Finding The Missing….

| October 8, 2019

Two stories about searching for missing relatives from World War II:

It was cloudy in California on Oct. 26, 1944, the day New Jersey resident and Women Airforce Service Pilot Gertrude Tompkins went missing while delivering a P-51D Mustang fighter plane to Newark in the midst of World War II.

Tompkins was one of 1,074 women who completed brutal training to join the WASPs, who were attached to the U.S. Army Air Forces. She and 37 other women died in service to their country, but Tompkins is the only one who remains missing, said Pat Macha, an airplane archaeologist helping with search efforts.

For 75 years, the whereabouts of Tompkins and the P-51D she had been flying that day in October have remained a mystery — one that her grand-niece, Laura Whittall, hopes to solve someday soon. – article

One theory is that because the bay area was fogged in and the Mustang’s canopy did not close properly, Tompkins may have been trying to close it and became disoriented in the fogged-in area, which led to her crash.

The second story takes us to Papua, New Guinea, where the remains of a crashed B-25 Mitchell bomber were found along with those of the co-pilot Maj. Donn Young, but the missing pilot, Bill Benn was not.

A WWII Army Air Corps aviator will be buried at Arlington this week with full military honors — thanks to the dogged efforts of a Philadelphia businessman who made multiple treks to the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

The remains of Maj. Donn Young were originally found more than 20 years ago by Fred Hagen, a Philadelphia construction company owner who originally went looking for the remains and aircraft of his great-uncle, Maj. Bill Benn in 1995.

Now, nearly eight decades after his plane went down in Papua New Guinea, Young will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday. – article

During his searches, Fred Hagen has been able to find and confirm the remains of other WWII Army aviators, which have since been interred.

Welcome home, MAJ Young. And may the others be found and accounted for as well.

Category: Historical, No Longer Missing, War Stories

Comments (14)

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  1. 5th/77th FA says:

    May you rest in peace at home now Major Donn Young. Thanks to the ones who worked so hard to make this happen.

    May we never rest until we account for WASP Gertrude Tompkins and the other thousands of missing Warriors.

    Thanks for the post Ex. These stories need to be repeated. We see the #s of the MIAs but very seldom is there a name or a “rest of the story.” A Lady Mentor of mine lost her brother MIA in the Pacific during WWII. She went to her grave in 2003 still wondering what happened. I like to think that she was met by him “on the other side.”

  2. Slick Goodlin says:

    “women who completed brutal training to join the WASPs”

    Brutal synonyms – bitter, burdensome, cruel, excruciating, grievous, grim, hard, hardhanded, harsh, heavy, inhuman, murderous, onerous, oppressive.

    With all due respect and recognition to the brave women who served in the WASP’s, having read some of the history of their training, I believe the writer’s use of word brutal was a bit of hyperbole.

    • ninja says:

      Slick Goodlin:

      To be fair to Ex-PH2, the Writer of the story is Kaitlyn Kanzler of the New Jersey Record.

      Kaitlyn Kanzler is one that used the word “brutal” when referring to the training that the WASPs received (please read the original 30 September 2019 article provided in the link):

      “The 75-Year Search For a Missing WWII Pilot From NJ Continues”

      The article was picked up by the Army Times. Some readers noticed errors in Kaitlyn Kanzler’s story (please read their comments in the Army Times article):

      Evidently, Kaitlyn Kanzler called the P47 Thunderbolt a P-54.

      Slick, Thank You for sharing your input on the article. And a Big Thank to Ex-PH2 for sharing Gertrude Tompkins’ and Major Donn Young’s story.

      Bring Them All Home.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      My guess is that if Tompkins was flying in the fog of San Francisco Bay, she may have flown out to sea without realizing it and run out of fuel. Without any way to contact people, she was lost, period.

      For the record, the WASPs did have a strict PT regimen that they all had to follow, period, and it was probably more stringent than anything the reporter ever had to face.

    • AW1Ed says:

      Yeah, tell it to the African American pilots in WWII, and what they went through to serve.

    • Wilted Willy says:

      Maybe their training wasn’t brutal, but I sure as hell know their mission’s were very brutal! I will never forget my 7th grade science teacher, Mrs. Grace B Mayfield. She was a P-38 pilot in WW II. Flying those fighters over the pond was no walk in the park! She was indeed, one of the Greatest Generation! I will never forget you! She took me on my first flying lesson and encouraged me to get my license!

  3. USAFRetired says:

    Back in 1999 my squadron was making a deployment to Okinawa, one plane 2 crews plus maintenance/support and 2 C-5s worth of stuff to support. I was serving as troop commander for one of the C-5 loads of folks. It was a leisurely trip with schedule RON at Hickam and an Ops stop at Anderson in Guam enroute to Kadena.

    We got to witness/participate in what was for me a unique event. They had recently recovered the remains of US flyers from a B-25 crash in New Guinea in WWII and their landing in Guam was to be the first stop on American soil enroute to the States. We fell out as part of the rent a crowd to welcome home our fallen warriors who’d died decades before any of us had been born. We looked like a motley group of BDUs and flight suits that had been slept in for the better part of two days on planes. But everyone was proud to play their little part.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      I wish I had been there to see that happen.

    • AW1Ed says:

      We looked like a motley group of BDUs and flight suits that had been slept in for the better part of two days on planes. But everyone was proud to play their little part.

      I’m sure they would have appreciated that more than a formation in SBDs, USAFRetired.

      • USAFRetired says:

        There is nothing wrong with a formation of SBDs. My father’s first assignment following boot camp at Parris Isaland was as a the rear gunner in the SBD. About six months after arriving at his first duty station, they boneyarded the birds and he had to come up with a new MOS.

        23 years later as a MGysgt in the 1st MAW at Danang he tried to volunteer to be a door gunner in helicopters. The G-1 politely told him not no but hell no.

  4. AW1Ed says:

    Nicely done, Ex. Thanks.

  5. Frankie Cee says:

    I am really impressed that we are now able to identify the remains of our fallen heroes from those times. DNA testing is quite the process, and affords so many family and friends the closure they have missed for so many years.