U.S. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Marta Conway speaks during military funeral honors for U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Howard T. Lurcott in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, June 26, 2019. Killed during World War II, Lurcott was accounted for on Jan. 28, 2019 and was buried 75 years after he went missing.
From the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency:
On Jan. 21, 1944, Lurcott was a member of the 38th Bombardment Squadron, 30th Bombardment Group, stationed at Hawkins Field, Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, when the B-24J bomber aircraft he was piloting crashed into Tarawa lagoon shortly after takeoff. Lurcott and the nine other servicemen aboard the aircraft were killed.
Rescue crews recovered the remains of five individuals, however Lurcott was not among those recovered. The three identified sets of remains and two unidentified sets were reportedly interred in Cemetery No. 33 on Betio Island, one of several cemeteries established on the island after the U.S. seized the island from the Japanese in November 1943.
Following the war, the U.S. Army’s 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company conducted remains recovery operations on Betio between 1946 and 1947. Using U.S. Marine Corps records, they began the task of consolidating all the remains from isolated burial sites into a single cemetery called Lone Palm Cemetery. The remains of the B-24J crew were believed to be among those moved, however Lurcott’s remains were not identified and he was declared non-recoverable.
Throughout 1949, 94 sets of unidentified Tarawa remains were interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, known as the Punchbowl.
On Jan. 23, 2017, DPAA disinterred “Tarawa Unknown X-15 from the Punchbowl” and send the remains to the laboratory. Later in 2017, History Flight, Inc., a non-profit organization, through a partnership with DPAA, uncovered a series of coffin burials from Cemetery #33, which were subsequently accessioned into the DPAA laboratory for analysis. The remains were consolidated with Tarawa Unknown X-15.
To identify Lurcott’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
Lurcott’s Niece, Janice Hechler, received the flag from her uncle’s casket.
(U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery / released)