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US soldiers' kin await nod to resume search

Sixty-year-old Gary Zaetz, a software specialist with IBM Corporation in North Carolina in the United States, refreshes his email inbox frequently to make sure that he does not miss a single mail.

By Sumir karmakar in Guwahati
  • Published 13.04.15

Guwahati, April 12: Sixty-year-old Gary Zaetz, a software specialist with IBM Corporation in North Carolina in the United States, refreshes his email inbox frequently to make sure that he does not miss a single mail.

More so because he has been waiting for a particular mail from India for years, allowing a search operation in Arunachal Pradesh for the mortal remains of his uncle, Irwin Zaetz, a first lieutenant in the US Army Air force, whose plane had disappeared in the frontier state during World War-II.

Irwin's plane, the B-24 liberator bomber "Hot as Hell" crashed while flying from Kunming in China to Upper Assam's Chabua, a distance of over 1,400km.

The wait has been equally "unbearable" for John Hornback, a relative of Sergeant H.C. Jones, who had gone missing in Arunachal Pradesh while fighting the Axis forces.

With repeated pleas to the US authorities and emails to Indian government yielding no results, the Families and Supporters of America's Arunachal Missing in Action Servicemen (MIAS) - an umbrella body of 200 family members and relatives of the missing US soldiers - will soon move Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"We had sent an email to home minister Kiren Rijiju in 2014 and to Prime Minister Modi through his website but we have not received any reply yet. So we will soon send a letter to Modi's office hoping that the new government will fulfil the promise made by the previous Manmohan Singh government to resume the search operation, which was suspended in 2009," said Gary, in an email to this reporter.

"The weather was extremely poor that day (January 25, 1944) and was probably the reason for disappearance of the aircraft, while on a routine supply mission. Bad weather was the cause of disappearance of American aircraft in that area. The location of his crash site - which is most likely the site of his and seven others' mortal remains - was unknown till 2006 when American Missing in Action investigator Clayton Kuhles trekked to the site, in Upper Siang district, about 300km from Arunachal capital Itanagar, with the assistance of a local tour guide Oken Tayeng," said Gary.

The subject had found place during the India-US political and military dialogue in New Delhi in April 2012, following which India decided to resume the searches in Arunachal Pradesh to look for the remains of 94 American airmen killed in action during World War II.

Gary's email said according to the US defence department, the remains of an estimated 400 American airmen who were killed in air crashes during World War II in Arunachal Pradesh still lie exposed at their crash sites.

"The locations of many of these crash sites have been documented in recent years and are well known to both the governments. The Manmohan Singh government promised US officials they would allow resumption of recovery operations and send the remains to their families in the US for proper burial. But it never carried out that promise," the group said in its memorandum to minister of state for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju, emailed on July 30, 2014.

Rijiju also hails from Arunachal Pradesh.

The forum suspects that India was not resuming the search as it might invite criticism from neighbouring China, which claims Arunachal Pradesh as its own territory.

"During the Modi-Obama Republic Day summit in New Delhi in January, we hoped it would conclude with an announcement that MIA recoveries would shortly be permitted in Arunachal Pradesh. However, the statement talked about humanitarian mission in Assam and Nagaland, not in Arunachal Pradesh, where most crash sites are located," Gary said.

In January 2012, a team of Japanese authorities had exhumed graves of 11 Japanese soldiers who died in WWII and were buried in Guwahati War Cemetery and had taken back some remains.