Photo courtesy of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

Philadelphia WWII pilot accounted for

March 22, 2019 - 9:22 am
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From Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

The DPAA announced today that U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Howard T. Lurcott, 26, of Philadelphia, killed during World War II, was accounted for on Jan. 28, 2019.

On Jan. 21, 1944, Lurcott was a member of the 38th Bombardment Squadron, 30th Bombardment Group, stationed at Hawkins Field, Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, when the B-24J bomber aircraft he was piloting crashed into Tarawa lagoon shortly after takeoff. Lurcott and the nine other servicemen aboard the aircraft were killed.

Rescue crews recovered the remains of five individuals, however Lurcott was not among those recovered. The three identified sets of remains and two unidentified sets were reportedly interred in Cemetery No. 33 on Betio Island, one of several cemeteries established on the island after the U.S. seized the island from the Japanese in November 1943.

Following the war, the U.S. Army’s 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio between 1946 and 1947. Using U.S. Marine Corps records, they began the task of consolidating all the remains from isolated burial sites into a single cemetery called Lone Palm Cemetery. The remains of the B-24J crew were believed to be among those moved, however Lurcott’s remains were not identified and he was declared non-recoverable.

In 2017, History Flight, Inc., a non-profit organization, through a partnership with DPAA, uncovered a series of coffin burials from Cemetery #33, which were subsequently accessioned into the DPAA laboratory for analysis. On Dec. 20, 2018, one set of remains was identified as U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Carl M. Shaffer, a crewmember on Lurcott’s plane.

To identify Lurcott’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

On Dec. 20, 2018, crewmember U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Carl Shaffer, 22, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, was accounted for.

DPAA is grateful to History Flight, Inc., and the Republic of Kiribati of for their partnership in this mission.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,738 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as being possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Lurcott’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, site along with others missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.