The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced recently that U.S. Army Air Forces Cpl. Merle L. Pickup, 27, of Provo, Utah, killed during World War II, was accounted for July 20, 2022.
In May 1944, Pickup was assigned to the 308th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 373rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), stationed in Yangkai, China. He was a passenger onboard a B-24J Liberator bomber on a ferrying mission from China to Chabua, Assam, India. The plane never made it to its destination after encountering bad weather, and the Army reported the plane as missing.
Following the war, the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS), the military unit responsible for investigating and recovering missing American personnel in the Pacific Theater, attempted to reach the reported crash site in March and November 1947, but were unsuccessful. In December that year, the AGRS determined reaching the site was too dangerous and the remains of the crew, including Pickup, be declared non-recoverable.
In 2008 and 2010, a third-party wreck hunter located and visited the crash site and reported seeing aircraft wreckage, military equipment, and possible human remains. In March 2014, the Pacific Aviation Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, confirmed wreckage photographs taken at the site in 2010 were consistent with a B-24.
In August 2019, Abor Country, an Indian travel and expedition company, successfully reached the site, documented and recovered evidence, and recovered possible human remains, which they turned over to DPAA partner Southeastern Archaeological Research (SEARCH), who was performing a DPAA recovery mission in India at the time.
The items were then turned over to the Indian government. The COVID pandemic caused a delay in the evidence and possible remains being repatriated to the U.S., which finally was able to happen in March 2022.
To identify Pickup’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), Y chromosome DNA (Y-STR), and autosomal DNA (auSTR) analysis.
Pickup’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, along with others still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Pickup will be buried on Dec. 17, 2022, in Provo, Utah.