Funeral set for WWII pilot missing since 1944 crash


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Second Lt. Robert R. Keown was piloting his P-38 aircraft to an airfield after a mission in 1944 when it crashed into a mountain in Papua New Guinea. World War II ended without Keown’s family knowing what had happened to him, and the military later declared him dead.

Decades later, a villager found human remains in a swampy area near the mountain. Another resident of the Pacific island snapped a photo of the rusted wreckage of a warplane years after that.

With all those puzzle pieces finally assembled with the help of genetic testing, remains of the Georgia native and Alabama resident are now back on U.S. soil. Relatives will gather at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., on Friday afternoon for the long-delayed funeral of Keown (pronounced Cow-uhn).

“I expect to be overwhelmed,” said nephew John Keown, 62, of Decatur, Alabama.

The ceremony will include a flag-draped coffin and an honour guard for Keown, who grew up near Atlanta in Lawrenceville, Georgia, before moving to the northern Alabama city of Scottsboro. He was 24 and serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces, the predecessor to today’s Air Force, when he died.

Keown’s remains arrived Thursday at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, said Justin Taylan of Pacific Wrecks , a non-profit contractor that searches for the remains of missing service members in conjunction with the Department of Defence.

More than 400,000 Americans died in World War II, and the Pentagon says nearly 73,000 of them remain unaccounted for.

Keown was among that number until November, when DNA testing proved that skeletal remains found in Papua New Guinea were his. That confirmation, combined with photos of the wreckage, allowed the Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency to remove Keown from the list of the missing, but it’s still unclear what happened in the crash.

“The pilot probably bailed out, …read more

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