Robert W. McKee – Sergeant, United States Army Air Forces

STAFF SERGEANT, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 39563633
776th Bomber Squadron, 464th Bomber Group, Heavy
Entered the Service from: California
Died: 17-Dec-44
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Florence American Cemetery
Florence, Italy
Awards: Air Medal, Purple Heart

12 April 2005:

The remains of a World War II bomber crewman, lost during a raid over Europe in 1944, were buried with military honors Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Staff Sergeant Robert W. McKee of Garvey, California, was a gunner on a B-24 Liberator that took off from Pantanella, Italy, on December 17, 1944, to bomb targets near Blechhammer, Germany, according to a statement from the Defense Department’s POW/Missing Personnel Office.

The plane crashed in Hungary, and McKee and another crewman were killed. The other nine crewmen bailed out and survived.

The remains of the other crewman were found after the war in a cemetery in nearby Felsosegesd, Hungary, but McKee’s fate remained a mystery. His identification tag was found buried with human remains from another plane crash near Vienna.

Analysts determined those remains were not McKee’s but another flyer’s, prompting researchers to conclude that McKee must have lost his tag while flying on that plane on another mission before it crashed.

In 1992, an undertaker found the remains of an American in a cemetery in Bohonye, Hungary. Information from a Hungarian researcher suggested they might be McKee’s, and American scientists matched McKee’s DNA with two of his relatives.

About 88,000 Americans are listed as missing from all U.S. conflicts. Of those, 78,000 are from World War II.

Soldier’s family finally gets to say goodbye

Robert McKee, born in Long Beach, killed in WWII, is buried at Arlington.

When the B-24L carrying 20-year-old Staff Sergeant Robert. W. McKee to a bombing mission crashed, his family didn’t know what happened to him.

They got their answer 60 years later with the help of the Internet, DNA, the military and an amateur Hungarian historian.

McKee, an Army Air Force aerial gunner who was born in Long Beach, is no longer missing in action. He was buried Tuesday with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Scientists of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory relied on several forensic tools including DNA to identify McKee. In December 2004, mitochondrial DNA was used to match his DNA with two maternal cousins.

“It was pretty incredible,” said McKee’s son, Larry Drake, 62.

“It was 60 years when we figured out exactly what happened.”

Drake’s wife, Holly, said McKee’s widow, Phyllis, attended the funeral and is happy now.

“There’s closure now,” Holly Drake said. “I think everybody is pleased. Everybody cried.”

McKee and Phyllis were graduates of Garvey High School and had a son in 1943. They played saxophone together and lived in Garvey, relatives said.

Garvey was an area that is now within Rosemead or the county area known as South San Gabriel, according to Donna Crippen, curator of the El Monte Historical Society.

McKee was an aerial gunner on a B-24L “Liberator’ that took off from Pantanella, Italy, on Dec. 17, 1944, to bomb enemy targets near Blechhammer, Germany, according to the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.

The family received a telegram he may be missing in Czechoslovakia but they didn’t know what happened to him, Holly Drake said.

McKee’s mother, Nona, spent years searching for her youngest son. She died in 1985.

The Drakes were living in Anchorage, Alaska, three years ago when they saw a restored B-24. Holly Drake went on the Internet, found a message board for B-24 bombers and asked for information on Robert McKee. She received tips on what to do from the World War II vets and got a copy of the crash report.

Then Dennis Friedbauer, who was then working as an analyst for the Department of Defense POW/MIA Office, found her query on the Internet and called her. The Navy man was working on the McKee case.

He also got help from Nandor Mohos, a Hungarian computer programmer who is in interested in WWII. Mohos gave him a list of people shot over Hungary which included McKee.

Friedbauer later found a Nazi document in the National Archives that said McKee was shot down over Bohonye, Hungary. He turned over his information to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. The military later found two cousins in the maternal line who donated blood for the DNA testing.

“It finally came true. The final chapter has been written,” Friedbauer said.

Military officials said McKee and a second crewman were killed when their aircraft crashed over Hungary near the towns of Bohonye and Felsosegesd.

In 1992, an undertaker recovered remains believed to be those of an American in the Bohonye cemetery. Aerial gunner wings were found in the grave, as well as other items worn by U.S. bomber crews in 1944. No name was on it, though.

A decade ago, Friedbauer said the Germans were in Hungary looking for their war dead. They found their remains along with those of a lone American. He was shipped to Hawaii and was identified as McKee.

The Drakes have McKee’s gunner wings and his pocket watch compass.

Friedbauer presented Larry Drake on Tuesday with a piece of the B-24 that carried McKee. He got it during his visit to Bohonye.

“I’ll tell you one thing. I served in the Navy 24 years and this is the highlight of my career. Impossible to describe,” he said.

7 May 2005:

Closure at last
After 60 years, airman’s remains finally ID’d
Courtesy of the Pasadena Star News
By Ruby Gonzales , Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Sixty years ago today, World War II ended in Europe with Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. It wasn’t until Aug. 15 that Japan followed suit. The following stories focus on a small number of San Gabriel Valley residents who served in the war and are part of what is now known as “The Greatest Generation.’
Robert McKee was a local boy who married his high school sweetheart and thought of becoming a musician.

But like many young men during the war, the 20-year-old was drafted and sent overseas.

The Army Air Force aerial gunner and 10 others were on a bombing mission on Dec. 17, 1944, when their B-24 was shot down over Hungary. McKee was listed as missing in action.

The war in Europe ended about five months later, but Staff Sgt. McKee’s fate remained a mystery for the next 60 years. Science eventually identified remains kept at a Hawaiian air base as those of the missing soldier, and McKee was buried April 12 in Arlington National Cemetery.

“With this kind of thing, it is a closure,’ said Marian Payne, who was McKee’s sister-in-law. “I have a son with two sons. It’s good for them to see there is fairness in this world. There is a sense of justice.’

McKee and his older brother, Don, were born in Long Beach. Their parents divorced when they were children, and their mother, Nona, lived in the San Gabriel Valley.

“I was probably 17 when Don took me up to his mother’s house and I met his brother. Of the two brothers, he was quiet, kind of introspective,’ Payne said.

Bob McKee graduated from Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra in the summer of 1942 with his future wife, Phyllis.

“He was quiet, introverted, very much like his son,’ Phyllis Drake said.

McKee was very athletic and liked to do “loner things,’ she said. He used to go to Yosemite by himself and hike.

Phyllis Drake lived in Garvey, which is an area now within Rosemead or South San Gabriel, according to a curator at the El Monte Historical Society. She met the young man who would be her first husband at Mark Keppel High. She was 14; he was 15. They both played the saxophone.

He also played the clarinet and had a band called Bob McKee and His Rhythm Kings.

They started hanging out and found they liked a lot of the same things. In the 11th grade, they started making plans.

“The war escalated, so everybody was marrying early,’ she said.

After they wed, the couple moved to Monterey Park and McKee worked at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach. The, McKee and his brother were drafted.

“I was very pregnant at the time and we didn’t think he would still be there when the baby was born. He was in the room when Larry was born,’ Drake said.

McKee was sent overseas when his son Larry was 15 months old. Drake was staying with her parents in Garvey when his plane was shot down.

“They sent me a telegram and all they said was missing in action. I didn’t have any specifics,’ Drake said.

At 19, she was a widow with a young son.

“I used to kind of hope he was captured and lost his memory and made a new life,’ Drake said.

The B-24 “Liberator’ carrying McKee took off from Pantanella, Italy, to bomb targets near Blechhammer, Germany. The military initially thought the plane was shot down over Czechoslovakia.

Joseph Caporali of Lady Lake, Florida, was among the 11 people on the B-24 that day.

“This plane, they took off the belly gun and put a radar in there,’ he said.

The plane had an extra navigator onboard because of the radar, he said. It lost an engine and started heading to Italy. He said it dropped a bomb somewhere and got shot down over Hungary.

“It started catching on fire. We all bailed out,’ Caporali said.

McKee and another crewman were killed, while nine others parachuted to safety, according to military officials. The plane crashed near Bohonye and Felsosegesd in Hungary.

Caporali said he and six others were captured right away and became prisoners of war.

“That day we got shot down and he (McKee) didn’t make it. I didn’t know him that well,’ Caporali said.

The remains of the other crewman who was killed turned up in a cemetery in Felsosegesd. But what of McKee?

Following the war, remains from a crash near Vienna, Austria, were found buried with McKee’s dog tag. But the remains were of another flier. McKee flew on the same plane but had lost his dog tag.

In the fall of 1991, the German War Graves Commission in an effort to consolidate their graves from WWII went to Hungary. Members of the commission found their dead along with those of an American whose remains they sent to Hawaii in 1992.

A nearly complete skeleton was reportedly found in a Catholic cemetery in Bohonye, Hungary, according to Army Maj. Rumi Nielson-Green, media officer for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

Along with the bones were U.S. coins, a compass, suspender clips, a pocket watch compass, an aerial gunner’s wings, a comb, some buttons, pieces of uniform fabric, a zipper and electrical connectors.

The Germans included a brief report that said the remains were believed to be associated with a plane crash in November 1944, Nielson-Green said, adding that the sources were people from the town.

She said work began on identifying the remains as soon as they were received. Anthropologists estimated the person was a white male, 20 to 25 years old, who stood about 68 inches tall.

The remains were kept in the JPAC Central Identification Lab at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. But from 1992 to 2003, they could not put a name to the remains.

The break came in May 2003.

Dennis Friedbauer, who was then an analyst for the Department of Defense POW/MIA Office, got a list of soldiers shot down over Hungary from Nandor Mohos, a Hungarian historian. Friedbauer also located a Nazi document that stated McKee was shot down over Bohonye, Hungary. He contacted JPAC.

The military later found two of McKee’s maternal cousins, who gave blood samples for the DNA testing. Phyllis Drake also told the military that her first husband broke a front tooth as a child and had a gold-capped tooth.

“For some reason, that did not show up on his dental records,’ she said.

By December 1, 2004, the military signed the final identification report.

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