At the end of World War II, the United States government was unable to retrieve and identify more than 79,000 Americans. Almost 70 years later, more than 73,000 are still missing.
Here are the stories of two local families and their quest to bring their loved one home.
On May 7, 1944, 2nd Lt. William Parkinson was reported missing in action after his B-24 Liberator heavy bomber disappeared over the jungles near Lea, New Guinea. On Jan. 18, two U.S. Army officers presented the urn containing Parkinson’s remains to his descendants in Conyers. After 69 years, 2nd Lt. Parkinson was finally home.
The tiny settlement of Nadzab located in the Markham Valley north of Lae, New Guinea, was first established as a Lutheran mission in 1910. In 1943, Allied forces drove Japanese forces from the area, carved runways through 5-foot Kangaroo Grass and 8-foot Kunai Grass, and established an airbase.
May 7, 1944 – Nadzab Army Air Force Base. B-24 Liberator heavy bombers assigned to the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bombardment Group, 64th Bombardment Squadron, take off for a bomb run over Sawar, New Guinea. But not all the bombers were in the air.
At least one of the four huge Pratt and Whitney R-1830 engines on the straggling B-24 refused to respond properly. With the other B-24s already airborne, the crew of the defective bomber scrambled into a stand-by B-24 nicknamed “Toughy.” Due to bad weather or uncompromising bad luck on the tarmac, “Toughy” got stuck in the New Guinea mud and had to be pulled out with a Cletrac.
At last airborne, “Toughy” and crew raced to catch up with their formation more than 25 minutes ahead. She never joined the formation, and the crew was never seen or heard from after their take off.
An air search was initiated over land and water along the northern coast of New Guinea with discouraging results. The dense jungle and mountainous New Guinea terrain had claimed another air crew. Ten more American warriors were added to the list of more than 2,000 missing in New Guinea during World War II.
The co-pilot, 2nd Lt. William R. Parkinson, along with the nine other crew members, were listed as Missing in Action within 48 hours.
The Missing Air Crew Report specified:
Intended Destination: SawarTarget
Date: 7 May 44
Location: Information not available
Aircraft lost as a result of: Circumstances Unknown
Number of persons aboard: 10.
Second Lt. Parkinson had enlisted on Jan. 14, 1943. Married less than a year to his wife Alice, she finally received a letter from the War Department’s Adjutant General Chief Casualty Branch, dated Feb. 25, 1946, that her husband’s status had been change to ‘presumed dead.’ On July 18, 1949, the remains of the crew were officially determined as non-recoverable.
The Parkinson family moved on with their lives as best they could. Lt. Parkinson had four brothers, all of whom married, raised children, carried on the family legacy and periodically revisited their brother in the family photo album.
September 1973 – the U.S. Defense Attaché office in Canberra, Australia, received notice that the wreckage of a World War II aircraft with human remains had been found about 40 miles northwest of Lea, New Guinea. The wreckage, personal effects, and the remains had not been disturbed because local natives considered the area to be cursed. Most of the remains were found still at their duty stations. The aircraft was a B-24D, number 424525, nicknamed “Toughy.”
Speculation promoted a theory that the bomber had entered a blind valley and crashed while attempting to maneuver out. With no evidence of an explosion or fire, the theory seems plausible. Among the personal effects found: a white wrist watch, a man’s silver ring, and three ID tags including 2nd Lt. Parkinson’s.
The remains were sent to the U.S. Army Identification Laboratory, Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, for anthropological examination and processing. However, due to prolonged exposure to weathering factors and severe eroding and paucity of the skeletal remains, positive individual identification was impossible. Therefore, the crew would be buried together.
Oct. 18, 1974 – the two caskets containing the remains of “Toughy’s” crew received a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. The names and ranks of all 10 crew members were etched into the large granite headstone. But the story continues.
A Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command team revisited the crash site in April 2008 and recovered more wreckage, and more importantly, additional remains. Using related evidence and forensic science, the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory matched the mitochondrial DNA with that of Lt. Parkinson’s cousins.
The nephew of 2nd Lt. Parkinson, Conyers resident Richard ‘Linn' Parkinson, was recently notified that his uncle would be returning home after 69 years of status as an MIA, presumed dead, found, buried with his crew, to positive identification.
The Parkinson family, including nephews Richard, Otis and Stanley, were finally able to welcome their uncle home on Jan. 18. Completing a very emotional speech, Linn Parkinson softly said, “We’re glad Uncle Bill is finally with us.”
Capt. Nino Philakham from Fort Gordon worked diligently with the family before, during and after the ceremony. Capt. Aaron Matthews from Schofield Barracks at Pearl Harbor accompanied the urn containing the remains of 2nd Lt. William Parkinson on a direct Delta flight from Hawaii to Hartsfield-Jackson International. A U.S. Army Honor Guard plus Delta’s Honor Guard met and escorted 2nd Lt. William Parkinson through the airport terminal with his remains placed on a gurney draped with an American flag.
Linn Parkinson invited me and my wife to attend the ceremony and presentation at the Parkinson home in Conyers. It was an event we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.
Welcome home, Lieutenant.
Pete Mecca is Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.