The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Oct. 20 that U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Earl W. Smith, 22, of Oakland, Calif., killed during World War II, was accounted for March 23, 2020.
In the summer of 1943, Smith was a pilot assigned to the 80th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force. On Aug. 20, Smith was piloting a P-38 Lightning fighter on a test flight near Port Moresby, Australian Territory of Papua (current day Papua New Guinea), when he crashed into the harbor off of Paga Point. Smith did not bail out and his body was not recovered.
Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command, the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, searched the area around Port Moresby several times, concluding their final search on Dec. 18, 1948. Investigators could not find any evidence that Smith’s remains had ever washed ashore. He was declared non-recoverable Aug. 17, 1949.
In 2002, recreational divers discovered aircraft wreckage with a legible radio call sign data plate matching Smith’s P-38 off of Paga Point. In 2014, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency (a predecessor organization to DPAA) evaluated the evidence and approved a recovery mission, but didn’t set a date. DPAA sent a team to Papua New Guinea at the end of 2018. The team recovered possible human remains and material evidence that identified the wreckage as the aircraft piloted by Smith.
To identify Smith’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as material and circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
Smith’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Philippines, along with others still missing from World War II. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Smith will be buried Aug. 20, 2021, at a location yet to be determined.