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November 17, 1999

     Remains of eight servicemen who were missing in action from World War II have been identified and are being returned to their families for burial in the U. S.

They are identified as Lieutenant Maurice S. Smith, Lodi, California;  Ensign Edward W. Riepl, Herndon, Kansas;  Petty Officer First Class Clifford M. Pindell, Washington, D.C.; Petty Officer First Class James W. Pearson, Alliance, Nebraska; Petty Officer Second Class William R. Pipes, Chickasha, Oklahoma; Petty officer Second Class Merlin J. Rich, Wheeler Township, Michigan; Petty Officer First Class William H. Osborne, Martinsville, Virginia; and Petty Officer Second Class Vernon H. Stolz, Saginaw, Michigan, all U. S. Navy.

     On August 6, 1942, these crewmen were flying a routine patrol mission whose search sector took them over the island of Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides.  The weather was reported as adverse, and the aircraft never returned to its home base in New Caledonia. Searches failed to uncover any traces of the PBY-5 Catalina aircraft or crew.

In 1994, the U. S. Embassy in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, notified the U. S. Army Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI) that relic hunters had discovered the crash site of an American aircraft on Espiritu Santo (now part of the Republic of Vanuatu.) A CILHI recovery team excavated the site in March and April 1994 and recovered human remains, personal effects, and crew-related items among fragments of the aircraft wreckage.

Over the next five years, CILHI specialists applied the latest forensic identification tools to the effort of identifying these crewmen.  Among the tools used was that of mitochondrial DNA, in which a blood sample from the maternal blood line is compared to the DNA from a bone fragment of the deceased serviceman.  Mitochondrial DNA tests are conducted by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland.

Purple Heart Medal

Maurice S. Smith
Lieutenant, United States Navy
Lodi, California
California State Flag
Edward W. Riepl
Ensign, United States Navy
Herndon, Kansas
Kansas State Flag
Clifford M. Pindell
Petty Officer First Class, United States Navy
Washington, D. C.
District of Columbia (Washington, DC) Flag
James W. Pearson
Petty Officer First Class, 
Alliance, Nebraska
Nebraska State Flag
William R. Pipes
Petty Officer Second Class, United States Navy
Chickasha, Oklahoma
Oklahoma State Flag
Merlin J. Rich
Petty Officer Second Class, United States Navy
Wheeler Township, Michigan
Michigan State Flag
William H Osborne
Petty Officer First Class, United States Navy
Martinsville, Virginia
Virginia State Flag
Vernon H. Stolz
Petty Officer Second Class, United States Navy
Saginaw, Michigan
Michigan State Flag

Aircrew: 6 August 1942 Gravesite PHOTO
Photo Courtesy of Roxsane Wells-Layton, August 2006

Posted: 28 April 2003 Updated: 17 August 2005