Re­mains on Pa­cific is­land iden­ti­fied as Detroit man

Air­man in WWII had been elec­tri­cian for Ford Mo­tor Co.

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY ED WHITE As­so­ci­ated Press

Detroit — A Michi­gan air­man whose plane crashed dur­ing World War II has been iden­ti­fied among the re­mains re­cently dis­cov­ered on a Pa­cific Ocean is­land, the U.S. gov­ern­ment said Thurs­day.

The Metro Detroit fam­ily of 2nd Lt. Don­ald Un­der­wood got the news last week­end dur­ing a meet­ing with the De­fense Depart­ment. A 90-year-old brother, Ge­orge, was in dis­be­lief.

“He threw his neck back and put his han­kie to his mouth,” said son-in-law Mike Me­hall. “It was a com­plete sur­prise. We were start­ing to think we were run­ning out of luck.”

Un­der­wood, who was 23, was a mem­ber of the Army Air Forces dur­ing World War II. He was aboard a bomber known as the “Miss Bee Haven” when it crashed in shal­low wa­ter af­ter take­off from the Gil­bert Is­lands in Jan­uary 1944. Bod­ies were re­cov­ered and buried.

The area now is the coun­try of Kiribati. Three months ago, Un­der­wood’s re­mains were dis­cov­ered along with oth­ers on Be­tio is­land by a Florida-based group, His­tory Flight. The group, which searches for the re­mains of U.S. war dead, con­tacted the De­fense Depart­ment.

Un­der­wood’s dog tags were among the re­mains. His iden­tity was con­firmed by the gov­ern­ment through fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said Katie Ras­dorf, a histo- rian and vol­un­teer with His­tory Flight.

“I was shocked, re­ally. This has been go­ing on for years,” said Ge­orge Un­der­wood, who turns 91 next week.

Don­ald Un­der­wood grew up in River Rouge and was an elec­tri­cian at Ford Mo­tor, where co­work­ers called him “Sparky.” Two months af­ter the plane crash, the pi­lot who sur­vived wrote a let­ter to Un­der­wood’s mother, de­scrib­ing the bombardier as will­ing “to go to any risks” to at­tack the en­emy.

Ge­orge Un­der­wood kept a rosary and a picture of his brother in his bed­room, pray­ing that his re­mains would some­day be found and re­turned to the U.S.

In March, with no progress re­ported, the fam­ily held a memo­rial ser­vice at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery. Un­der­wood now will be buried at Ar­ling­ton. His medals in­clude the Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross.

Me­hall praised the staff of U.S. Rep. Deb­bie Din­gell for work­ing closely with the fam­ily.

“Seventy-three years later,” he said, “Don­ald will be com­ing home.”

AP

Sec­ond Lt. Don­ald Un­der­wood of Detroit was killed in a plane crash in 1944 dur­ing World War II.

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