HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The Pentagon agency that searches around the world for American service members missing from past wars has started a mission to recover one of the last World War II pilots still left on land in Hawaii.
Navy Reserve Ensign Harold P. DeMoss’ F6F-3 Hellcat went down during a night training mission on June 23, 1945, in the Koolau Mountains — leaving his family to ask unsuccessfully and repeatedly over ensuing decades about bringing him home.
The Army last week provided a Black Hawk helicopter to drop off nine team members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency at the remote site near Kahuku Point as part of a recovery mission that is scheduled to last until Sept. 30.
The rugged hillside spot choked with vegetation required the use of a “jungle penetrator” seat to lower personnel, said Maj. Jessie Romero, a DPAA spokesman.
DPAA team members, who are staying in tents at the site from Monday through Thursday, cleared the crash site for helicopter operations, Romero said. The excavation began Monday with dug-up dirt placed on a tarp and carried out by helicopter to be sifted and examined at Wheeler Army Airfield, he said. The Army’s 25th Combat Aviation Brigade is assisting with the helicopter support.
DeMoss, just 21 years old in 1945, was part of a formation of three Hellcats that took off from Naval Air Station Barbers Point at 1:05 a.m. Near Kahuku Point the fighters ran into clouds, and DeMoss became separated from the group. At 10 a.m. a crashed and burning plane was spotted. Three days later a search party reached the wreckage and buried the remains.
Clarence and Mary De- Moss made inquiries to the Navy about recovering their son. The years stretched into decades, and the effort to see Harold DeMoss returned for burial in the family graveyard passed from parents to a brother to a niece, Judy DeMoss Ivey.
“We’re all excited,” said Ivey, 64, who lives in Nashville, Tenn. “Now it’s like they’re really going to do this.”
James DeMoss, 82, Harold’s younger brother and only sibling, feels the same way. “He couldn’t believe it. He was so happy,” said his daughter.
DPAA, formerly the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, searches for, recovers and identifies Americans missing from past wars, often traveling to Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Europe to do so. The bulk of its operations are based out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The Navy said in a 1948 letter to the family that “an attempt to recover the remains was considered impracticable” because the site was 7 miles from a traveled highway in the mountains and could be reached only “on foot over rocky ledges, through heavy undergrowth and over extremely rugged and dangerous ground.”
In 1967 the Navy told the family that “due to the remoteness of the location where your son’s aircraft crashed, it is almost impossible to reach this area by normal means of transportation.”
The Hawaii Aviation Preservation Society took up the cause, and its volunteers in late 2011 found crash wreckage including both tires, one blade of the prop, an oil cooler and partially buried pieces of the plane. DPAA picked up the recovery case from there.
Because of the ongoing delays, relatives were skeptical that DeMoss’ remains would ever be recovered. But there now is hope the World War II pilot can be buried in the same family plot as DeMoss family members who served in the Civil War and World Wars I and II.
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