Arthur F. Eastman
Second Lieutenant, United States Army Air Forces
Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 0-678001
5th Service Squadron, 27th Air Depot Group
Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 229-08
March 24, 2008
Missing WWII Airman is Identified
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from World War II, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
He is Second Lieutenant Arthur F. Eastman, U.S. Army Air Forces, of East Orange, New Jersey. He will be buried in September in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
Representatives from the Army met with Eastmanís next-of-kin to explain the recovery and identification process and to coordinate interment with military honors on behalf of the Secretary of the Army.
On August 18, 1944, Eastman departed the airdrome at Finschhafen, New Guinea, on a test flight of his F-5E-2 aircraft, but never returned. Subsequent searches failed to locate Eastman or his aircraft.
In 2003, a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) found documents in the Australian National Archives about an earlier site visit believed to be associated with an F-5E crash. According to the archives, an Australian official had visited the crash site in 1950 in Morobe province near Koilil Village, but there was no subsequent recovery.
In 2004, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) investigated the crash site in the mountains of Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. The team found aircraft wreckage and recommended the site be excavated.
In February-March 2007, a JPAC team excavated the crash site and recovered human remains, pilot-related items and other personal effects, including Eastmanís military identification tag.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC also used dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.
For additional information on the Defense Departmentís
mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo
or call (703) 699-1169.
The single-seat reconnaissance plane lifted off the runway at Finschhafen, New Guinea, at 10:53 a.m. on August 18, 1944, for a short test flight, with Lieutenant Arthur F. Eastman at the controls. The 22-year-old pilot who grew up on Summit Street in East Orange never returned.
Within a year, World War II ended and the men from Eastman's Army Air Corps unit went home and resumed their lives. Five years later, the military deemed Eastman "unrecoverable." A few years after that, his parents, grief-stricken over the loss of their only child, died. More time passed, and memories of the man known as Benny to classmates at East Orange High School faded.
Then, a few days before this past Christmas, the phone rang at Patricia Berg's house in Colorado. The insistent voice at the other end said she had important news from the Department of Defense. A crash site on a steep mountain slope a half a world away had been excavated, and remains had been identified.
Berg thought it was a prank call until the caller said the name "Arthur." Then it hit her.
"My mother's cousin," Berg said. "The one who never came back from the war. I was shaking."
The recovery of Lieutenant Arthur Eastman is part of a new global push to find and identify the remains of the 78,000 U.S. service members missing in action from World War II -- a Pentagon effort that had been focused in previous decades almost exclusively on the roughly 1,800 troops who never returned from Vietnam. From 1973 through last year, the military's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command identified the remains of 889 missing service members from the Vietnam War.
But statistics just from the past decade show nearly as many identifications from World War II as from Vietnam -- 293 compared with 350. (Over that same period, the remains of 71 of the 8,400 missing from the Korean War also were identified.) All told, the JPAC has identified the remains of 1,436 service members from four wars and the Cold War.
Military officials say the increase in World War II numbers has been aided by leaps in forensic technology, such as DNA matching, as well as by clear-cutting jungles that covered many crash sites.
Pressure from organizations such as World War II Families for the Return of the Missing also has played a role.
Maine resident Lisa Phillips, whose uncle is among the missing, said her group believes priority should be given to World War II searches because the numbers from that conflict are greater and because time is rapidly culling the ranks of people who know of crash sites near where they live. Phillips said some families have paid $20,000 or more to conduct their own searches.
No service member is more important than any other. All of them need to come home," Phillips said. "But we don't want 'the Greatest Generation' left behind."
By the time Eastman's remains were identified, none of his relatives had any memory of him.
Patricia Berg, now 64, is one of only four known survivors. She knows more about Eastman than anyone, but it isn't much. Everything she knows came from her mother, Jeanne, who died last year.
Jeanne (Eastman) Welch had moved to San Francisco as a young girl but had traveled back to New Jersey several times to see "her little cousin" and his parents, Arthur and Marian Eastman.
"Every once in a while she mentioned that Arthur never came back from the war," Berg said. "When she did, she always mentioned his parents, how sad they had been that they never knew what had happened."
Arthur Eastman had been a young man of promise when he graduated from East Orange High School in 1940. He'd been a member of the fencing team. His yearbook said he wanted to become an engineer, and his ambition was "to get an M.S. at Cornell University."
But a war got in the way. Eastman joined the Army and scored high enough on aptitude tests to earn a spot in flight school.
For years afterward, Welch kept a picture of her cousin in his military uniform. By the time she died, the picture had gone missing.
Yet after the discovery of Eastman's plane and the positive identification of his remains, Welch was the key that allowed the Army to find his next of kin -- a task that fell to Linda Abrams, a forensic genealogist.
Abrams, who has located relatives of nearly 1,000 missing service members, struggled at first in her search for Eastman's descendants.
"This guy was unusual because his family was so small," said Abrams, who was surprised to find that no descendants remained in New Jersey or nearby. Her break came when she tracked Berg through California burial records for Berg's mother.
Abrams was the one who broke the news to Berg. To Abrams, who has been involved in a long-running effort to find descendants of the crew of a sunken Civil War submarine, helping families bring closure to loss is the best part of her job.
"You're playing a part in bringing a soldier home," Abrams said. "No matter how long it takes, these cases are never considered closed until they are closed."
When Eastman's modified P-38 didn't return within a few hours on that August day in 1944, a search was launched. His fellow pilots covered a 350-mile swath of coastline and jungle for 21 hours over three days before calling it off. They never got near the crash site -- an elevation of 7,200 feet on the side of a mountain under a triple-canopy jungle about 50 miles inland. The military's American Graves Registration Service closed his case in 1949, along with thousands of others.
A year later, an Australian official reported credible evidence of a crash site in New Guinea's Morobe Province near Loilil Village, but the information sat in the Australian National Archives until 2003. Then an American contractor brought it to the attention of American officials at JPAC, the Hawaii-based agency responsible for finding the missing.
The next year, a JPAC team found the wreckage and recommended an excavation and search for remains, even though the 60-degree slope would make the work especially challenging.
A second team with mountaineering experience returned on February 22, 2007, and went to work.
"We're talking about a very difficult recovery operation," said Elias Kontanis, a forensic anthropologist at JPAC. "We're talking about thick, heavy jungle that would swallow wreckage."
But the terrain also would protect the site from scavengers. The search team quickly found a piece of aircraft skin bearing the numbers 3227, the last four digits of the tail number of Eastman's plane. Then Eastman's dog tags turned up.
Within 10 days, the crash site had been excavated, yielding its other treasures, including an officer's service cap, an Air Corps ring engraved with the initials "A.F.E.," sunglasses, and a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes.
Comparisons between four teeth found at the crash site and Eastman's rudimentary dental charts were inconclusive. It didn't matter. All the other evidence pointed to Eastman.
The search for his next of kin began.
Berg finds herself thinking a lot these days about the young man who never came home.
"In my mind, he's still that 22-year-old who went off to war," Berg said. "You wonder, did he have a girlfriend, was she sweet on him? What was he like?"
She's proud, too. The remains of her long-lost cousin will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in September.
Berg only wishes her mother could be there.
"If we had heard about this a little sooner, it might have kept the old girl going," Berg said.
NOTE: Lieutenant Eastman was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, 5 September 2008.
Posted: 19 April 2008 Updated: 8 September 2008