An American Navy Aviation Radioman 1st Class who served during World War II and whose remains have been discovered in Palau will be laid to rest in Monterey County on September 11 after 79 years.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency website, U.S. Navy Aviation Radioman First Class Wilbur A. Mitts, 24, of Seaside, California, killed during World War II, was accounted for on Feb. 23, 2023.
In 1944 Mitts was the Aviation Radioman assigned to the Navy Torpedo Squadron 20, USS Enterprise. The agency stated that on Sept. 10, Mitts and two other crew members aboard the TBM-1C Avenger Bureau Number 17018 took off from the USS Enterprise on a mission to conduct air strikes against enemy targets in Malakal Naval District, Palau. Their aircraft was struck by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed into water near Malakal and efforts to recover Mitts’ remains were unsuccessful.
From 2003 – 2018, the BentProp Project, now known as Project Recover, and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conducted six investigations that resulted in the location of a site associated with the incident.
In May 2019, Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research, a DPAA partner organization, excavated the site and recovered remains and material evidence.
In Sept. 2021, a subsequent excavation was completed by Project Recover.
Remains and material evidence were sent to the DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for analysis.
Project Recover conducts an annual mission in Palau to continue its effort in searching for missing U.S. servicemen believed to have died here during World War II.