Pentagon Days Away from Decision to Bring WWII Naval Air Crewmen Back From 60 Year Temporary Antarctic Grave

Oct 22, 2007 No Comments by


SEATTLE, WA, OCTOBER 14, 2007óMore than 40 surviving family members of three U.S. World War II Naval air crewmen left in a 60 year old temporary grave are awaiting the Pentagonís decision to approve a formal plan to finally bring their loved ones home through the efforts of the George One crew Recovery Operation. Victimized by the Antarcticís notoriously foul-weathered Phantom Coast, the crew, Ensign Maxwell A. Lopez, Newport, RI, Fred Williams, Aviation Machinistís Mate 1st Class, Huntington, TN and Wendell Hendersin, Aviation Radioman 1st Class, Sparta and their photoreconnaissance Mariner Patrol Bomber, codenamed ìGeorge One,î remain buried in up to 150 feet below the accumulating snows of Thurston Island. The three airmen perished during a classified and hazardous mission as part of Admiral Byrdís 4th and largest exploration of Antarctica.

The civilian recovery effort, George One/Operation Highjump Crew Recovery Team, under the direction of Expedition Specialist, Lou Sapienza, has submitted detailed plans to the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Robert Gates that make recovery of the three U.S. heroes feasible for the first time. Says Sapienza,  ìOfficials are giving this mission, ‘serious and objective consideration.’ All those involved are eager to bring a positive conclusion to a mission that began more than sixty years ago. It is right to honor the three young naval veterans by laying them to rest under U.S. soil.î  
   
Utilizing state-of-the-art recovery equipment and the highly skilled personnel of the acclaimed Greenland Expedition Society, GES (that recovered the WWII P-38 Lightning Glacier Girl from 268 feet below the Greenland ice sheet), Sapienza and his team will enable the Navy to bring closure for family members, many now in their eighties, who long-petitioned the Navy for recovery of the three men.
   
Following the crash and explosion of their PB5 Mariner aircraft in December of 1946 Lopez, Williams, and Hendersin were buried by six survivors of the flight beneath a specific and well-marked area under the starboard leading edge of the large seaplaneís wing. Until now, the US Navy lacked known existing technology to feasibly and safely recover these U.S. WWII heroes.

The George One/Operation Highjump Recovery Team will execute two separate expeditions. In weather conditions of 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit the six-man site survey team will conduct an intensive ground penetration radar site survey to precisely locate and map the crash debris. A subsequent 12 person team will conduct an intensive 45-day recovery effort. Weather conditions will involve exposure to 100 mph katabatic winds.
 
In 2005, after four years of planning, the US Navy halted any further recovery activities lacking sufficient known technology to safely melt down and exhume the well-preserved bodies.  The technology originated, developed, successfully operated and now offered to the Navy for the George One Recovery by the GES team through Sapienza provides the last remaining elements necessary to safely recover the three naval crewmen.

ìOur family, along with the families of Hendersin and Williams, is fully committed to the recovery of our loved oneís bodies and proper burial in the United States before the section of ice in which they are buried falls into the ocean,î stated Theodore M. Lopez, family liaison and nephew of G1 crewman, Ensign Max Lopez.

ìThis singular mission has unburied countless stories of survival, courage and intrigue involving the surviving comrades and family members of three courageous young men,î shared Sapienza. ìThis recovery will close a chapter on American history and bring to life again a renewed belief in a country that deeply honors the service of its citizens.î
 
The George One Recovery Mission will be timed to take full advantage of favorable austral summer weather conditions.   A US Army Central Identification Lab (CILHI) cold weather anthropologist will, with assistance from the George One Team, recover the remains for transport to the Hawaii based CILHI for full identification.  A nephew of Fred Williams, Lt Colonel James Beebe has applied to be the official military honor guard on the return of these 3 sailors from the Antarctic to CILHI.
 
For additional information on the George One/Operation Highjump Recovery Team please contact Lou Sapienza, George One Recovery Expedition
Executive Director/Expedition Coordinator:
206-240-9869;
lou@george1recovery.org
www.george1recovery.org

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