Remember Those Who Didn't Come Home
By Thom Wilborn
When 2nd Lt. Samuel Lunday walked to his C-87 Liberator Express in Yangkai, China, on April 24, 1942, he most likely was smiling and joking as he always did, but never realized how long it would be before he came home. World War II was just a few months old, and his job was to co-pilot his aircraft carrying supplies from India to China over the forbidding Himalayan Mountains. It was daunting duty.
This September, in a quiet area of Arlington National Cemetery overlooking Washington, D.C., friends and family bid a final farewell with full military honors to Lunday as the nation honors the thousands of men and women like him who went missing in the fog of war or were taken prisoner.
Lunday was one of five crew members of his cargo plane that disappeared flying over the 15,000-foot “Hump” from Yangkai, China, to their home base in Chabua, India. Communications were lost following take-off, and the crew was never heard from again. Eleven aerial searches failed to find the downed aircraft due to intense snows in the mountains and dense jungle growth at lower altitudes. Lunday, 23, and the four others with him were declared presumed killed in action and went missing for 60 years.
“He was a gentleman, smiled a lot and was fun to be around—a really funny guy,” said his nephew, Rowland “Rhip” Worrell III, a DAV member and 28-year U.S. Air Force veteran. “My mother thought he was the greatest, and my father said he was among one of the finest officers and gentlemen. All of our family thought highly of him.”
“After he was lost, my mother had a hard time talking about him, so I never heard many stories about his life.” Worrell said. “He was her special guy.”
Lunday and 83,430 others missing in action from World War I through the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are among those remembered on POW/MIA Recognition Day, Friday, Sept. 21 during a Pentagon ceremony. Attending are families of the missing, former POWs, members of Congress, veterans service organizations and active duty service members. Observances are also held across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools and veterans' facilities.
“It is a solemn event, but no more solemn than the farewell given to Lunday and the other service members whose remains were identified and interred by their families,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski. “It is a vital part of DAV’s mission to achieve the fullest possible accounting of our MIAs and POWs.”
An American citizen trekking about 112 miles east of Chabua in 2003 discovered the C-87’s wreckage more than 13,000 feet high on a mountainside in northeastern India. He recovered Lunday’s remains and those of two others, the plane’s identification plate and military equipment. The artifacts and remains were turned over to the U.S. embassy in Rangoon and later to scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.
Scientists used mitochondrial DNA to identify Lunday and two others from the plane—Capt. Jennings H. Mease of Greenville, S.C. and Pfc. Mervyn Sims of Petaluma, Calif. The remains of Mease and Sims were turned over to their families last year for burial with full military honors.
Worrell said he was contacted several years ago by the Defense Department’s POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), located near Washington, D.C., saying that his uncle’s crash site may have been found. “About a year and a half ago, they notified me that he had been identified.”
“When DPMO called me, I had no idea there was an agency looking for POWs and MIAs,” he said.
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