KOLR 10 (Nexstar) — The remains of a Missouri-born World War II veteran are heading to California for burial after being found in the Palau Islands.

According to a press release from the Navy Personnel Command Public Affairs Office, the remains of Aviation Radioman First Class Wilbur Archie Mitts will be buried on Sep. 11 in Mission Memorial Park Cemetery in Seaside, California.

Mitts was born in Barry County, Missouri, in the town of Seligman. His role as an aviation radioman involved operating radio transmission and receiving equipment on Naval aircraft, maintaining radio batteries, encoding and decoding Navy messages and more.

The release states that on Sep. 10, 1944, Mitts was part of a three-member aircrew that took off from the USS Enterprise on a preinvasion strike against Japanese forces in the Palau Islands as part of Operation Forager. Their plane was last seen spinning violently before crashing into the water near Malakal Island.

All three crew members were lost in the incident, and Mitts was declared killed in action on Sep. 11, 1945. He was awarded the Purple Heart after his death.

The American Graves Registration Service, the agency responsible for searching for and recovering missing American service members, searched combat areas and crash sites in and around Palau, but were unable to find evidence of the aircraft. Their search ended in 1947.

In 2003, the BentProp Project (now known as Project Recover) began looking into the loss of the plane as part of their mission to locate remains of American World War II service members who went missing in the Pacific.

After four Project Recover and two Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency investigations, the remains of Mitts’ plane were discovered near Malakal Island.

Mitts’ remains were recovered during operations in 2019 and 2021. Forensic analysis identified the remains as Mitts on Feb. 23, 2023.

Mitts is memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Phillippines.

Over the course of his brief Naval career, Mitts received several awards and decorations, including:

  • Air Crew Insignia (with three stars)
  • Purple Heart Medal
  • Combat Action Ribbon
  • Good Conduct Medal
  • American Defense Service Medal (Fleet Clasp)
  • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (Bronze Star)
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Area Campaign Medal (Clasp and Bronze Star)
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • American Campaign Medal