Skip to comments.N.C. man's remains buried after 57 years (missing WW2 soldier)
Posted on 01/09/2003 5:44:00 AM PST by Constitution Day
The Associated Press
N.C. man's remains buried after 57 years
January 8, 2003 8:01 pm
The Associated Press
DENTON, N.C. -- For 57 years, the gravestone of Lt. Fred Smith sat over an empty grave. His remains were finally lowered into the ground with full military honors Wednesday.
"This is really a thanksgiving day," said Smith's widow, 84-year-old Dee MacDonald of Rutherfordton. "We are thankful to finally know what happened to him and we are thankful to finally have him home."
On Sept. 7, 1945, five days after the Japanese formally surrendered to end World War II, Smith and seven other men took off from a New Guinea airstrip in a B-25 Mitchell bound for the Philippines. They never made it.
The U.S. Army Air Corps assumed that the twin-engine bomber was lost at sea, and Smith was officially declared dead Feb. 13, 1946, on what would have been his 30th birthday.
That was the last Smith's family had heard about him until two years ago, when his little sister got a message on her answering machine from Pentagon officials.
"They said they found Fred," said Jettie Smith, 84, of Handy. "It was a shock."
In 1995, a helicopter from an Indonesian mining company was surveying a remote mountain in New Guinea, where the rugged volcanic peaks rise as high as 16,000 feet. The pilot spotted the tail of a plane in the jungle, a white star and number on its fuselage.
The U.S. Defense Department's Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office was notified about the wreckage and a recovery team was sent to the site in February 1999. The bodies of all eight crewmen were recovered, along with such personal effects as clothing, dog tags and wedding bands. It's still not known what caused the plane to crash.
After the families were notified, blood samples were collected from living relatives to make positive identifications using DNA.
Smith's body was returned to his family Monday.
About 100 people packed the tiny sanctuary at Lineberry United Methodist Church on Wednesday.
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division carried the flag-draped coffin to a neighboring cemetery. There, they folded the flag and presented it to Jettie Smith. An honor guard fired a 21-gun salute and a bugler played taps.
A 1933 graduate of Denton High School, Fred Smith earned a degree in vocational agriculture from N.C. State University in 1938. He taught for three years at Courtney High School in Yadkinville and for two years at Guilford High School near Greensboro.
Former students remembered Smith as a strict teacher who knew how to be fair.
"We all looked up to him," said Francis Essic, 77. "He was a good man."
Jettie Smith said she was grateful to finally have a funeral for her brother.
"It gives us closure," she said. "For years we wondered where he was and tried to hold out hope. We figured he was dead, but without a body we didn't know for sure. I thank God I've lived to see this day."
URL for this article: http://www.heraldsun.com/state/6-307194.html
The B-25 crash site is at the center of the yellow circle; above and to the left is the helicopter landing pad where the recovery team pitched tents.
Photo by Greg Probst, Courtesy of Freeport-Mcmoran Copper & Gold
Lt. Fred Smith, U.S. Army Air Corps
The grave of Lt. Fred Lewis Smith in Denton is visited by his sisters, Annie Lee Allen, left, and Jettie Smith, who hope to hear from the recovery team.
Staff Photo by John Rottet
Sgt. 1st Class Sean Bendele holds leather gloves found in wreckage, preserved by the perpetual cold.
Courtesy of U.S. Army Central Identification Lab
Although our country is gearing up for a new war on the other side of the globe, it's important to remember these heroes - both the fallen and the survivors - and the sacrifices they made.
I think of them every day.
This is because I proudly display in my home the medals, photo and dogtag of my grandfather, SSGT Moses Baker, U.S. Army Air Corps, 1942-1946.
Three rifle volleys, not a 21-gun salute.
I do know that he supervised the loading of bombs on aircraft, and was stationed in Tunisia, England and (maybe) Sicily.
(See caption of first photo: "Photo by Greg Probst, Courtesy of Freeport-Mcmoran Copper & Gold")
A NC native bump...
My uncle was a bombadier on a B-26.
When we were little he told is he bailed out over France. HA! He was just spreading the BS.
Before he died, he told me the truth. The Germans always knew of their approach and concentrayed their flak accordingly.
The bombers couldn't break formation and had to go thru it. Scarey stuff.
There is one thing I don't get, though. If the helicopter was spotted in 1995, why did it take until 1999 to recover it? I'm just curious.
First of all the helicopter spotted IT (the bomber wreckage), not the other way around.
My guesses on the reasons for the delay are:
1) Suharto was still in power in 1995, and I think his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, took power in 1999 or thereabout.
The recovery of American bodies was probably very low on the dictator Suharto's "to-do" list.
2) The area is probably VERY remote.
I can't believe I remembered how to spell "Megawati Sukarnoputri".
I just love her name.
It trips off the tongue like India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Thanks for reading the thread.
Off topic, but will you be at CPAC? I'm coming.