THE United States Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced on Oct 20 that US Army Air Forces pilot 2nd Lt Earl W Smith, 22, of Oakland, California, killed during World War II, was accounted for on March 23 this year.
In 1943, Smith was a pilot assigned to the 80th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force. On Aug 20, Smith was piloting a P-38 Lightning fighter on a test flight near Port Moresby, when he crashed into the harbour off Paga Point. Smith did not bail out and his body was not recovered.
Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command, the organisation that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, searched the area around Port Moresby several times, concluding their final search on Dec 18, 1948. Investigators could not find any evidence that Smith’s remains had ever washed ashore. He was declared non-recoverable Aug 17, 1949.
In 2002, recreational divers discovered aircraft wreckage with a legible radio call sign data plate matching Smith’s P-38 off of Paga Point. In 2014, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency (a predecessor organisation to DPAA) evaluated the evidence and approved a recovery mission, but didn’t set a date. DPAA sent a team to Papua New Guinea at the end of 2018. The team recovered possible human remains and material evidence that identified the wreckage as the aircraft piloted by Smith.
To identify Smith’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as material and circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
Smith’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Philippines, along with others still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Smith will be buried Aug 20, 2021, at a location yet to be determined.
For family and funeral information, contact the Army Casualty Office at (800) 892-2490.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil, find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa or call (703) 699-1420.
Smith’s plane was built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank had the IConstructors Number 322-3310. It was delivered to the US Army Air Force as P-38G-13-LO Lightning serial number 43-2201 and was disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.
the aircraft was assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 8th Fighter Group (8th FG), 80th Fighter Squadron (80th FS).
On Aug 20, 1943 Smith took off from the 3-Mile Drome (Kila) on a mission against Wewak. After a successful mission, Smith decided to perform aerobatics over a ship inside Fairfax Harbour. He slow rolled and hooked a wing in the water and crashed 300 yards off Paga Point. Officially, this aircraft was written off three days later on Aug 23, 1943.
The wreck is broken up, in an area with moderate visibility. In 2002, Mark Palmer first dived the site and located the cockpit’s radio call sign, ‘3-2201’ confirming the aircraft’s identity.
Palmer adds: “The location of this aircraft was shown to me by a local fisherman. It is one of his fishing spots and he was shown the location by his uncle who was a carrier during the war.
“The plane seems to have hit the water pretty hard and is broken up. The position lies beneath the anti-aircraft guns on Paga Hill and Napa Napa.”
Recovery of remains
During March 2019, a team from Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) dove the crash site and recovered remains. On March 23, 2020 the Department of Defense (DoD) announced that Earl W Smith was accounted for using dental, anthropological, material and circumstantial evidence.
Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
Smith was officially declared dead on the day of the mission. He earned the Air Medal. Smith is memorialised at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
After Smith was identified, a rosette was added next to his name. On Aug 20, 2021 Smith will be buried at a location yet to be determined.
Emily Johnson (great niece of Earl W Smith) said on Nov 14, 2014: “My family recently received information from the US Government that a relative of ours Earl W Smith’s aircraft remains were recently found and needed information from us including DNA samples.
“This is the brother of my grandmother.”
A nephew of Smith, Robert W Hughes added: “Here’s a little more info on Earl (my Uncle Buddy). His hometown was Oakland, CA. He went to the College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific – UOP) where he was on the tennis team.
“He was married to our Aunt Margret. They had no children. He and my mother (his sister, Donna) were the only children of Earl and Nellie Smith (our grandparents).
“We (my sisters, Bonnie Fitch and Betsy Koegler) are his sole living relatives along with our children.
“He enlisted right after Pearl Harbor. He was of slight stature.
“This one picture is the one that my grandparents displayed on their old TV set. As a little guy (four years old) I used to stare at it constantly when I visited my grandparents.
“That’s your Uncle Buddy,” they would say, but not much more – they were still hurting.”
The funeral service for military personnel whose remains have long been unaccounted for, traditionally includes military honours including a 21 gun salute, military burial and headstone.
Justin Taylan, founder of Pacific Wrecks, a non-profit organisation involved in the chronicling of war history in this part of the world, said Aug 20, 2021 was selecrted as the day of the funeral because it isanniversary of Smith’s death and crash.
Covid-19 is part of the reason the ceremony has been put off to next year.
– Story and picture from US Department of Defence/Pacific Wrecks.