MIA Recoveries

Historical Background

During WW II, the US lost hundreds of aircraft in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater of operations.  Although hostile fire from Japanese forces accounted for many of these aircraft losses, the vast majority of US aircraft were lost due to inhospitable weather, mechanical failure or navigational error.

The Aluminum Trail, published in 1989 by Chic Marrs Quinn, lists over 700 US aircraft lost in the CBI theater.  The personnel losses were far in excess of this number, as most aircraft had multiple crewmembers and were often transporting passengers.  The US Dept of Defense stated in 2004, that more than 500 US aircraft and 1,200 crewmembers and passengers remain missing in the CBI theater, with an estimated 416 Americans still missing in India alone.  Nowhere in the CBI theater were the aircraft losses higher than on the notorious Hump route between US airbases in northeastern India and airfields in China.  Many of these aircraft have never been found, and their crews and passengers have since been declared Administratively Dead, Unrecoverable or MIA.  The CBI theater and its Hump route might have more MIA US airmen than any other WW II theater of operations.

I have taken on the project of searching for and recovering these MIA Americans.  For practical reasons, the initial focus of the MIA recovery project is on finding and identifying the crashed aircraft.  Once the found aircraft have been positively identified, a review of archival records will quickly determine everyone who was aboard the aircraft when it disappeared.  Generally speaking, most of the crashsites that I reach have unrecovered crewmembers and often some passengers.  It was very rare that the personnel had safely parachuted from the aircraft and survived the crash.  Next, a detailed report is prepared and posted on this website along with relevant photos.  A copy of my report is sent to the appropriate government agencies.  Finally, I make every attempt to locate and notify the surviving family members of the personnel who were aboard the missing aircraft.  Any human remains which I find at a crashsite are delivered to the US Dept of Defense for DNA matching and then repatriation to the families.

ATC Rescue Team
ATC team that rescued crew of C-46 #2420 and Eric Severeid of CBS News
Aug 1943 in Burma


This poem was written by Pfc. Robert L. Looney (see C-87 #41-23791) and was published in the 22 Oct 1942 edition of CBI Roundup. 

I'm sick of the Black and Tartar
I am sick of the Hausa, Malsy
And far away spots on the chart are
No place for yours truly to stay.
I've had of undersized chicken
And milk that comes out of a can
The last is no region to stick in
For this one particular man.
I am weary of curry and rice
All mingled with highly spiced dope
I am weary of bathing with lysol
And washing with carbolic soap.
I am tired of itch and spin diseases
Mosquitoes and vermin and flies
I am fed up with the tropical breezes
And sunshine that dazzles your eyes
To eat without fear of infection
To sleep without using a net
And throw away all my collection
Of iodine, quinine, et cet.
To hear all the noise and the clamor
The hurry and fret of the west
I'd trade all of the Orient Glamour
That poor lying poets suggest.
They sing of the East as enthralling
That is why I started to roam
But I hear the Occident calling
Oh Lord I want to go home.
- Pfc. Robert L. Looney

China Clipper Bailout Crew
China Clipper bailout crew 2nd Lt. John B. Frazier, 2nd Lt. Toney W. Gochnauer, 2nd Lt. George R. Maupin (L. to R. between Chinese personnel)

The Zoot Chute Ready to Roll
Zoot Chute ready to roll

The Zoot Chute in a Revetment
Zoot Chute in a revetment

Nix Class

Class of Bombardier 2nd Lt. Harvey M. Nix

Hump Airmen

Hump airmen returning from a walkout

Click on the image below for a larger view
C-109 Tanker Historical Information

Click on the image below for a larger view
C-109 Historical Information

C-46 on the Hump
C-46 on the Hump

Damaged C-47 in NE India
Photo courtesy of SSgt. Ignatius P. O'Saben family

C-47 being readied in NE India
Photo courtesy of SSgt. Ignatius P. O'Saben family

Photo courtesy of Jon and Ingrid Frank

CNAC bungalow at Dinjan, India. Photo courtesy of CNAC Capt. Giff Bull

CNAC bungalow at Dinjan Tea Estate, India. Photo courtesy of CNAC Capt. Giff Bull

CNAC C-47 crossing the Hump. Photo courtesy of CNAC Capt. Jim Dalby

Operation Bodylift

One of the grim and unpleasant tasks during and after any war, is the collection and burial of our dead.  The US Army Graves Registration Service established a US cemetery in Calcutta, India as a final resting place for those US war dead not sent back to the USA.  In November 1945, the 1305 AAF Base Unit at Dum Dum airport near Calcutta was tasked to move all US war dead in India and Burma to Calcutta for reburial.  Two C-47 aircraft were permanently assigned to this duty.  After just a few trips, these aerial hearses smelled so badly that they could no longer be comfortably or safely used for any other type of mission.  In flight, the smell was reasonably bearable for the crewmembers since windows were left open and the cargo doors were often removed.  On the ground, the smell was unbearable due to the heat.  The crewmembers frequently used wintergreen in handkerchiefs of makeshift facemasks until they could get airborne again.  In November and December 1945, a total of 890 bodies were collected from all over Burma and India and flown to Calcutta.  This required a lot of trips, since the usual load was only about 15 caskets and often less than that. 

The all-volunteer aircrews who flew the initial body pickups were given an official commendation by Col. U.G. Jones, Commander of the 1305 AAF Base Unit, which said in part:
"During the month of November 1945, the 1305 AAF Base Unit was charged with the responsibility of moving from the widely dispersed and almost inaccessible areas of the Assam valley to the Calcutta area the bodies of those American servicemen whose lives had been given in our great drive for international peace.  Near Calcutta, a United States cemetery has been established where those who cannot return to their loved ones at home can rest together in peace.  The thought of those who made the supreme sacrifice having a centralized and well-kept resting place which their families might visit, was indeed pleasant.  However, all personnel involved were cognizant of the mental and physical effects the missions might have on the crews assigned to the movement, and with this thought in mind, volunteers were requested.  You volunteered for a mission totally lacking in glory and adventure; you volunteered for a task known to be extremely unpleasant.  In addition, you were cognizant of the fact that these flights would be made over hazardous terrain and that treacherous weather conditions might be encountered.  As your Commanding Officer, I take great pride in commending you and your fellow crewmembers, who during the period of 28 November 1945 to 29 December 1945, aided in the movement of the remains of 890 American servicemen.  Never before, have I seen a better display of true American spirit and efficient performance.  The fact that under these extremely trying conditions, not a single mishap occurred, amplifies and clarifies the above statement."

This project continued up through 1948, after the CBI theater closed and all troops had gone home.  Two all-volunteer C-47 aircrews, led by Capt. Tommy Cale of Prattville, Alabama, remained during this period and flew all over Southeast Asia recovering American war dead.  When this project was finally finished, the airplanes were scrapped. 

Important Notice: These MIA recovery expeditions and this website have been almost entirely self-funded by Clayton Kuhles.  No funding is received from the US government.  If you believe this is a worthwhile humanitarian project that needs to be pursued, then please visit the Funding page on this website to see how easy it is to support this project in a meaningful manner.  MIA Recoveries, Inc is a tax-exempt public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Donations to MIA Recoveries, Inc are deductible under section 170 of the Code.  Thank you!


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