Lt. Henry Donald Mitchell developed a passion for aviation long before he piloted P-38 Lighting aircraft in World War II. He was a flight instructor known to show off his daredevil flying skills to his family in Northwest Arkansas. Mitchell applied his talent and love for aviation in response to his country’s call to serve, becoming a member of the 48th Fighter Squadron, 14th Fighter Group of the Army Air Corps.
On July 8, 1944, while on a mission over Vienna, Austria, his squadron engaged with enemy aircraft. While the flight leader heard Lt. Mitchell radio that he was all right, he never returned and was declared missing in action.
On this National POW/MIA Recognition Day, for the first time in 77 years, Mitchell is not listed as MIA thanks to the relentless pursuit by his brother Bob, members of the Arkansas congressional delegation, international representatives and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to bring him home.
The DPAA is responsible for finding, identifying and accounting for American service members missing in action. Today, more than 80,000 Department of Defense personnel remain unaccounted for, including 72,000 World War II servicemembers.
The work of the DPAA touches every corner of the United States and brings hope to families missing someone they love. Our never-ending commitment to accounting for those who served in our nation’s uniform remains a priority.
Increased challenges to locating our fallen heroes in remote or deep-water locations demonstrate the need for innovative technologies. However, limited resources hinder the agency’s ability to incorporate new strategies and implement state-of-the-art advancements. That’s why we must do more to help the agency successfully accomplish its mission.
One way we can make a difference is by creating a nonprofit foundation that will enable the agency to assist in recovery operations, support public-private partnerships, conduct research, and develop additional groundbreaking methods to search for and identify our heroes.
We’ve experienced success with similar congressionally-supported nonprofits on advancing DOD medicine. I look forward to introducing legislation that expands DPAA’s capabilities in the same manner. This will enable us to harness the expertise of world-class researchers and other experts so we can ultimately bring closure to more families.
DPAA personnel will continue looking for those missing in action and providing answers to families waiting, sometimes for decades, to hear their loved one has been found. Bob Mitchell was one such case, but thankfully that very call came last month.
“I’m tickled to death,” the younger Mitchell told an Arkansas news outlet in the days after the DPAA positively identified the remains of his brother who was found at the site of a downed P-38 Lightning in Austria. Bob spent more than two decades working to bring his brother home.
“I never gave up, and that’s the secret to a lot of things,” he told my staff.
Bob has been a relentless advocate for his big brother and I am honored to have played a role in his homecoming.
This week, Lt. Mitchell was finally laid to rest in the Fayetteville National Cemetery with full military honors.
There are many more families waiting and hoping for the same opportunity. This National POW/MIA Recognition Day, let’s remember them and renew our country’s commitment to bring our heroes home.
Boozman’s piece was published in Stars and Stripes.