TUPELO – David Porter heard the stories about his Uncle Lucian, a war hero whose fate remained a mystery for six decades after his plane crashed in New Guinea.
Porter also witnessed the tears and pain his uncle’s MIA status caused the family.
Today, however, the questions have been answered, and the final chapter in the life of Army Air Force Technical Sgt. Lucian I. Oliver Jr. will be written. And Porter, of Tupelo, will be part of it.
Oliver and 10 other crew members will be buried as a group today in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.
“I was too young to know him but listening to my family I learned about who he was and how he became missing,” said Porter, 60, who is attending the burial.
Oliver, of Memphis, was the only brother of Porter’s mother.
“I remember my mother and grandmother being very sad,” he said. “I can even remember my grandmother having to go through shock treatment to deal with everything. I think just not knowing may have been the hardest part for everyone.”
The World War II airmen crashed in a B-24 plane in the rugged juggles of New Guinea on Nov. 20, 1943, while on a mission. For decades no remains or even evidence of the wreckage were found.
Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Defense Department’s POW-Missing Personnel Office, said it is unknown if the plane was brought down by enemy fire or if it crashed for other reasons.
After World War II, the Army Graves Registration Service conducted investigations and searches for 43 missing airmen, including Oliver and the other 10, but concluded in June 1949 that all were unrecoverable.
In 1984, the government of Papua New Guinea notified U.S. officials of a World War II crash site in a ravine in Morobe Province.
A U.S. search and recovery team in late 1984 located B-24 wreckage and recovered human remains, but it was unable to complete the mission because of time constraints and the threat of landslides.
From then until 2004, teams from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command tried to excavate the location but were deterred by the threat of landslides. But during a site visit by a team in 2004, villagers turned over human remains they had previously removed from the area.
DNA testing on the remains and other circumstantial evidence led to the crew members being identified.
Oliver was 23 at the time the plane went down.
Even though a tombstone with Oliver’s name on it was placed in Memphis Memorial Park in 1957, Porter said that only now does his family feel closure.
“This all feels great,” he said. “This is the only country that I know that would go to this extreme to bring home their fallen soldiers. These 11 men went out on a mission for this country and didn’t come home. I want to pay homage to them for protecting my world.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal