US to Search for World War II Missing in Burma

By Matthew Pennington 12 January 2013

WASHINGTON—The US military is preparing its first search in eight years for remains of American soldiers lost in Burma during World War II, an official said on Friday.

The resumption of the search is a product of the revived US ties with the country also known as Burma after its government initiated democratic reforms.

The Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command said that a coordination team will head to Burma Jan. 21 to prepare for a visit by investigators a month later.

About 730 Americans are missing, mostly US air crews that went down in the rugged northern mountains and dense jungles while flying supplies from India to China.

Spokeswoman Michelle Thomas said starting Feb. 21, about one dozen investigators, mostly linguists and analysts, are scheduled to spend three weeks in Yangon Division and Mandalay Division to pursue leads. They will talk to known witnesses and obtain oral histories from government and military officials.

Another mission is planned for the summer, hopefully to gather enough information to send in recovery teams later.

The remains of seven airmen were recovered after US recovery operations in 2003 and 2004, during what was a rare instance of cooperation with Burma’s military before it halted the searches. The airmen’s C-47 Skytrain crashed in a remote area of northern Kachin state in 1944, probably downed by Japanese ground fire. They were buried with full honors in Arlington Cemetery in 2010.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged resumption of remains recovery when she made a landmark visit to Burma a year ago. Washington has since suspended economic sanctions, and in November Barack Obama became the first US president to visit the country, further cementing ties.

Most of the crash sites are in Kachin state, but JPAC is conducting its initial investigations in other regions. Fighting between ethnic Kachin rebels and government forces, including air strikes, has intensified in recent months, likely placing many parts of that province off-limits to US search parties.

Tens of thousands of villagers have been displaced in the fighting, prompted fresh criticism of Burma’s military from human rights groups.

A British excavation team is searching for a stash of World War II-era Spitfire fighter aircraft in Burma, and has so far managed to locate one wooden crate believed to contain one of the planes.