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Mon, 21 May 2018

Northeast Today

Missing for 70 Years

Missing for 70 Years
November 01
13:31 2014

Amar Sangno traces a sustained effort by American families to retrieve mortal remains of their beloved who went ‘missing in action’ during the World War II in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh. The relatives are struggling with India’s concern over allowing MIA recovery operation on large scale and the US government ‘lack of interest’ on the matter.

Gary Zaetz’s family had given up the hope to find or ever see the mortal remains of his uncle Lt Irwin Zaetz, who went “missing in action” (MIA) in Arunachal Pradesh during World War II. Flight B-24 J nicknamed ‘Hot As Hell’ went missing along with Lt Zaetz and eight other crew members in November 1944 when it flew over the Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh, which was popular among US Air Force as ‘hump’.

It is said that Lt. Zaetz’s flight took off from Kunming, China for a routine flight to Chabua near Dibrugarh Assam. The plane never reached its destination and later the crews were declared dead on November 20, 1944. The flight B-24 J was assigned to the 14th Air Force, 308th Bombardment Group and its prime target was to destabilize Japanese naval bases and army movements in the South Asia including North East India.

The dwindling hope of Gary’s family members came alive after 62 years with the discovery of the plane’s remains by a private American investigator, Clayton Kuhle, in December 2006. Gary set out for the crash site from remote Damroh, a village in Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh on September 27, 2008 with the help of local guide Oken Tayeng and his porters, and managed to reach at crash site after three days of trekking.

Gary Zaetz at his 59, a ‘computer software support specialist’ based in North Carolina USA, hardly trekked in the hilly terrain, but managed to fight through Damroh’s steep slopes infested with leeches and splinters. He stumbled many times and fell off a narrow trail and rolled down the mountainside, but the fall did not injure him much. Though the risky slopes made him slower, he kept on pushing himself through the rugged mountains. His heart was beating frantically and excitement ran through his vain as his hopeless childhood dream to see his uncle’s remains finally came true. Gary, however, never ever thought in his wildest dream that his uncle’s mortal remains would be waiting for him to take back home in such deep and an inaccessible jungle where animal existence is also a question.

The moment he reached the crash site, Gary broke down and cried inconsolably like a one-month-old baby. He wanted to cry out the frustration of decades old separation and wanted to say sorry to his uncle’s soul for not been able to bring his remains back home. The wreckage of fateful flight B-24 J, serial no 42-73308, were covered with mosses and roots.

In a somber mood, Gary recited prayers, both in Christian and Jewish, because his uncle and Sgt. Harry Queen were Jewish and the other six members were Christian. He uttered the Jewish prayers in Hebrew and Christian in English. Part of Gary was telling him to stay back at the crash site as long as he could. At the same time, a feeling of guilt and responsibility to bring the remains back has doubled up. He knew it is not an easy job to bring the mortal remains back home, because Indian government does not allow retrieving it.

However, he refused to be bogged down by the odds and diplomatic impediments of US-India relationship in his decade-long battle to bring home his uncle’s mortal remains. Gary’s unflinching love for his late uncle keeps his fighting spirit alive and he decided to not give up until he brought back the remains of Lt Irwin Zaetz for whom the final ritual is awaiting at home since 1944.

The Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal MIAs of the 400 American aviators whose mortal remains still lie unrecovered from their World War II crash sites have been persuading the US Defense Department to convince its Indian counterpart for recovery of MIAs remains’ from Arunachal Pradesh which India hardly allows any country to access considering the strategic sensitivity.
The organization which has members coming from across the world including Arunachal Pradesh recently wrote a letter to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requesting him to engage in dialogue with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for resumption of recovery of the MIAs’ remains.

In its letter, the organisation claims, “The Government of India continues to insist on the highly unreasonable restriction that it will permit only one crash site investigation or one crash site excavation in the entire territory of India in any given year.”
Further, it also added that India is in violation of its obligations under the Geneva Conventions, as it made no effort to protect the unrecovered crash sites from either scavenging, or from “crash site tourism”.

Gary, also spokesperson of the Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal MIAs, in his letter said THE commitment made by Indian government to US in June 2012 to allow resumption of MIA recoveries in Arunachal Pradesh, as a “humanitarian gesture”, is beginning to look like a shattered promise to the families of MIAs, saying that US government pays little interest to it.
He also appealed to the government of India to permit an immediate resumption of MIA recovery operations and permit it to be conducted simultaneously at the multiple documented crash site locations in Arunachal Pradesh.

The aggrieved families of America Arunachal MIAs have waited 70 years since 1944 but there is still uncertainty hovering over them. How many more years would they have to wait to retrieve their loved ones’ remains from the jungle of Arunachal? Only GoI can give the answer.

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