COFFEYVILLE, Kansas -- The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office says the remains of two U.S. servicemen, including a Coffeyville, Kansas man, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors.
Army Air Force Staff Sergeant Claude A. Ray, 24, of Coffeyville, Kansas and Staff Sergeant Claude G. Tyler, 24, Landover, Maryland were both buried Wednesday.
Claude Ray was buried in Fallbrook, California and Tyler in Arlington National Cemetery.
Ray's nephew, Burt Risser, told the North County Times newspaper near San Diego, California this week, he remembers his family's shock and grief when the telegram came to its door in Coffeyville 67 years ago telling the family that his uncle had been declared missing in action.
"It was enormous grief because we had gotten letters earlier that month saying he had completed all his required missions and would be home soon," Risser recalled Thursday. "He wrote he was dreaming of a white Christmas in Kansas," according to the North County Times.
Ray and Tyler, along with 10 other crew members, were ordered to carry out a reconnaissance mission in their B-24D Liberator, taking off from an airfield near Port Moresby, New Guinea, on October 27, 1943.
According to a Pentagon news release, Allied plans were being formulated for an attack on the Japanese base at Rabaul, New Britain. American strategists considered it critical to take Rabaul in order to support the eventual invasion of the Philippines.
The crew's assigned area of reconnaissance was the nearby shipping lanes in the Bismarck Sea. But during their mission, they tried to land at a friendly air strip nearby due to poor weather conditions.
The last radio transmission from the crew did not indicate their location, and searchers that day and the following weeks were unable to locate the aircraft in spite of multiple searches over land and sea areas.
The Coffeyville Journal newspaper said in an article, Claude Ray flew many combat missions in 1943 and was decorated with a Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Oak Leaf Clusters and a Purple Heart.
Ray met and fell in love with an Australian girl, Leah, before the mission. Leah's family in Sydney wrote to Ray's family that Claude and Leah were planning to get married when the war ended.
The DOD news release says in August 2003 a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command received information on a crash site from a citizen in Papua, New Guinea while they were investigating another case.
He also turned over an identification card from one of the crew members and reported that there were possible human remains at the site of the crash.
Twice in 2004 other JPAC teams attempted to visit the site but were unable to do so due to poor weather and hazardous conditions at the helicopter landing site.
Another team was able to successfully excavate the site from January to March 2007 where they found several identification tags from the B-24D crew as well as human remains.
Scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA, which matched that of relatives of Ray and Tyler, in the identification of their remains.