The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced recently that U.S. Navy Aviation Radioman First Class Wilbur A. Mitts, 24, of Seaside, California, killed during World War II, was accounted for Feb. 23, 2023.
In the fall of 1944, Mitts was the Aviation Radioman assigned to the Navy Torpedo Squadron 20, USS Enterprise. On Sept. 10, Mitts and two other crew members aboard the TBM-1C Avenger Bureau Number, 17018 took off from the USS Enterprise on a mission to conduct air strikes against enemy targets in Malakal Naval District, Palau Islands.
Their aircraft was struck by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed into water near Malakal. Efforts to recover Mitts’ remains were unsuccessful.
Following the war, the American Graves Registration Service, the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, conducted exhaustive searches of battle areas and crash sites in Palau, concluding their search in the summer of 1947. Investigators could not find any evidence of Mitts or his aircraft.
From 2003 – 2018, the BentProp Project now known as Project Recover, and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conducted six investigations resulted in the location of a site associated with the incident.
In May 2019, Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research, a DPAA partner organization excavated the site and recovered remains and material evidence.
In Sept. 2021, a subsequent excavation was completed by Project Recover, a nonprofit organization that works to search and recover missing Americans, where additional remains and material evidence were recovered.
Remains and material evidence were sent to the DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for analysis.
To identify Mitts’ remains, scientists from DPAA used dental analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
Mitts’ name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in the Philippines, along with others still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Mitts will be buried in Seaside, California on Sept. 11, 2023.