- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii (AP) — The airman’s possessions, laid out on a table, offer a glimpse of America circa 1942: a fountain pen, three severely damaged address books and 51 cents in dimes, nickels and pennies, dated 1920 to 1942.

A handwritten note inside one of the address books reveals the words “all the girls know,” but the rest is deteriorated and illegible.

Forensic scientists at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command are using these and other clues to help them identify a World War II airman whose remarkably well-preserved body was chipped out of a California glacier last month after two mountain climbers discovered his head and arm jutting out of the ice.

The airman is thought to have been one of four men aboard a Sacramento navigational training flight that crashed after takeoff Nov. 18, 1942.

The specialists have spent the past few weeks examining his bones, taking DNA samples and studying his teeth to establish who he was and precisely how he died.

“We want to be able to understand what happened to him fully,” said Robert Mann, deputy scientific director of the lab identifying the remains. “And … be able to answer whatever questions the family may have about ‘exactly what happened to my son, my brother.’”

The POW/MIA Accounting Command has recovered and examined the remains of U.S. servicemen around the world, but skeletons are usually all that are left. In this case, the deep cold preserved the airman’s flesh, hair and clothing.

The military knows the names of the four men killed in the crash, and a name is partially visible on a heavily corroded metal badge attached to the airman’s brown U.S. Army Air Forces uniform. But the forensic specialists do not want to jump to conclusions; they want to identify him with scientific certainty.

So far, they have determined that the airman was in his early 20s and stood between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet 2 inches. He had light brown or sandy blond hair. X-rays showed many of his bones were broken. He wore an unopened parachute, a thermal undershirt under his uniform and a sweater.

“We’re just lucky that somebody walked by there when there was a thaw and his body was exposed,” Mr. Mann said. “If not, he could have stayed there for hundreds of thousands of years.”

The discovery of the airman’s body Oct. 16 created a sensation. Families of the men who perished on the flight called the Fresno County Coroner’s Office to ask whether he was their lost loved one.

Jeanne Pyle, 85, of St. Clairsville, Ohio, said she thinks the airman may be her brother, Cadet Ernest Munn, whom she remembers as a handsome, 6-foot-4-inch man with blond hair and blue eyes. If the specialists confirm her suspicion, it will solve a painful mystery that has lasted for 63 years.

The AT-7 plane was piloted by 2nd Lt. William A. Gamber, 23, of Fayette, Ohio. It also had three aviation cadets aboard: Munn, 23, of St. Clairsville; John Mortenson, 25, of Moscow, Idaho; and Leo M. Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn.

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