A Promise of ‘No Man Left Behind’ Leads to a Forest in England

The blackened site of the plane crash, overgrown with rhododendron bushes and hidden in the quiet woodlands of eastern England, had for 80 years been the final resting place of a missing American pilot.

Now, a group led by British archaeologists is carefully searching through the tangled branches, the soil and the mud with a hopeful mission: to find the remains of the pilot, who died during World War II, and bring him home.

Their help has been enlisted by a specialized unit of the Defense Department responsible for finding the remains of tens of thousands of American service members who died as prisoners of war or were considered missing in action.

More than 72,000 Americans are still unaccounted for from World War II, according to the Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency, or D.P.A.A. That number, however, has been slowly dropping as the agency has found and identified more sets of remains.

Dan Phillips is among the volunteers meticulously sifting the soil for aircraft debris and human remains.Credit…Rosanna Price/Cotswold Archaeology
A fragment of the plane’s exhaust system was recovered from the crash site.Credit…Rosanna Price/Cotswold Archaeology

“They are still trying to adhere to that promise of ‘no man left behind,’” said Rosanna Price, a spokeswoman for Cotswold Archaeology, the group that is leading the excavation in Suffolk, a county in eastern England. “That’s quite powerful to us.”

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