Arkansas WWII pilot returns home after 77 years

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Peyton Craven
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
The remains of a once considered unrecoverable World War II pilot returned home after missing for just over three-fourths of a century. Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Henry D. Mitchell, who was shot down over Austria in 1944 during World War 2 and presumed Killed in Action, has been found.

On Dec. 11, 1953, Mitchell was declared non-recoverable. A Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) team discovered Mitchell’s crash site and on August 3, 2021, Lt Mitchell was declared accounted for after 77 years. He has since been buried in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The DPAA was established to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing personnel and their families. The agency works to locate missing personnel form World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Cold War, and conflicts in the Iraq Theater.

“Anytime we recover the remains of somebody that has made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, it really resonates as a reminder for us who wear the uniform that we signed up to do the same thing,” said Lt. Col. Nelson Prouty, 48th Flying Training Squadron commander. “We may not always be successful in bringing people back, but we are never going to stop trying.”

As a P-38 Lightning pilot, he was tied to the lineage of the 48th FTS based out of Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.

The origin of the 48th FTS at Columbus AFB dates back to World War I when the unit was established at Kelly Field, Texas, in 1917. At the time, the unit was named the 48th Aero Squadron, and their primary role was to provide Aerodome infrastructure support in France for Allied Forces. Upon the conclusion of their time in Italy, the unit went through a number of changes, including station adjustments and multiple reclassifications.

The unit was eventually fused with the 48th Pursuit Squadron in 1941 at Hamilton Field California, birthing the unit that eventually relocated to Columbus AFB, Mississippi.

The outbreak of World War II propelled the unit into combat operations in the African and European Theaters. At the time the 48th conducted bomber escorts, strafing operations, and supported the advancement of Allied infantry forces throughout the theaters.

In July of 1944, Mitchell was returning to base after conducting a mission over Austria. His squadron encountered enemy aircraft and the 48th immediately engaged. Mitchell was shot down and crashed near Waldegg, Austria.

The squadron recently hosted a grand opening for their re-vamped heritage room to celebrate the history of their squadron.

“It’s important to remember and honor the people who have come before you by remembering what they have done and making sure you live up to that legacy as you go forward,” said Prouty.