Staff Sgt. Jimmie Doyle climbed into the gun turret of his B-24 Liberator nicknamed “Babes in Arms” on Sept. 1, 1944, to prepare for another World War II bombing mission. The 25-year-old McKinney, Texas native, along with the 10 members of his flight crew from the 424th Bombardment Squadron, would be attacking heavily-defended enemy positions that day in the Republic of Palau.
Jimmie, wearing his wife’s wedding ring on a gold chain around his neck, settled in for the long flight from Wadke Airfield on south Pacific island of Papua to their targets 700 miles north. The first part of the flight went according to plan. No surprises.
Their world changed quickly, however, as they started their bombing run. Coming immediately under intense enemy anti-aircraft fire, the B-24’s left wing was hit setting the engine on fire. The wing folded and broke off throwing the plane into an uncontrollable spin as it plummeted to the sea.
Jimmie, an assistant flight engineer, was not able to get out of the plane and perished in the crash. His body was never recovered.
The discovery was made by Project Recover (formerly the BentProp Project), a collaborative effort using the latest science and technology to find and repatriate American servicemembers missing in action (MIA) since World War II.
The non-profit organization’s founders and president gathered on the USS Midway Museum for an engaging presentation and panel discussion for Midway members on the importance of their mission.
“Sharing the work of Project Recover on the USS Midway Museum was extra special,” said Derek Abbey, Project Recover’s president and CEO. “We feel that our work is a way of bringing the community together to learn about the contributions made by our nation’s military and keeping these memories and stories alive across generations. That is exactly what the Midway represents and does every single day. Being able to work together on this mission is exceptional.”
“We started Project Recover, and its predecessor The BentProp Project, to help locate and return home American MIAs to honor their loss and to bring a sense of closure to these MIA families,” said Pat Scannon, one of the project’s co-founders.
Nearly 100 Midway members and their guests attended the panel discussion. They were enthralled by the Project Recover presentation.
“I found it rather exciting and informative,” said Mercadez Butcher, a Midway member. “The panel had lots of information to give us. I am all about learning something new and being able to tell others. I can’t wait for more events like this and to stand behind such a strong cause.”
“Midway members were engaged from the beginning and asked thoughtful questions,” said Pat. “I found the evening very exciting.”
Over the last 30 years, Project Recover has located more than 50 downed World War II aircraft associated with more than 185 American MIAs. However, when the project began, the focus wasn’t necessarily on the servicemembers who were lost in combat.
“When I first started, I really only thought about the aircraft, and didn’t think about the aircrews and their families,” said Pat. “But I realized there were these terrible consequences of war. We can look at a statistic and it doesn’t have much impact on us, but when it’s your family member, it doesn’t matter what the statistics are, what matters is the loss that you’ve had and how that affects you and your whole life from then on.”
The highlight of the panel discussion was a summary of a new documentary, “To What Remains.” The film not only tells the story of Project Recover and but chronicles several of its search and recovery missions for missing servicemembers lost in the Pacific during World War II.
“It was very sad and heartbreaking, but also a rush of happiness when they were able to reunite MIA’s with their family,” said Mercadez. “I couldn’t imagine how that felt to the families. After watching the film and going on their website, I was able to learn a bit more about their recover program and donated to them.”
“Unlike families of service members who have been declared killed in action (KIA) and returned home, families of service members who are missing in action have to live their lives across generations with the unknowns of the loss, as well as an empty home grave site and all the associated emotions,” said Pat. “We have witnessed that returning home these Americans has a profound effect on not just these families but also on their communities and the nation at large.”
The documentary was commissioned in 2014 by Imperative Entertainment. Following Project Recover for six years, the film crew not only recorded their detective work in the Pacific Ocean, but interviewed members of the team as well as the surviving family of those aviators who died during the war.
Pat was grateful for the amount of time the film crew dedicated to the making of the documentary as there was never any assurances that remains would be found at an aircraft wreckage site and, even when remains were discovered, positive identifications are not always made.
“They could have just documented the search,” said Pat. “But they chose to put the documentary on hold until recoveries occurred at some of the sites.”
The Project Recover team is continuing to research potential wreckage sites in 20 countries, and has built its data base to more than 500 lost aircraft that are associated with more than 3,000 MIAs from World War II through Operation Desert Storm.
Unlike the documentary, Project Recover’s mission doesn’t end with the film’s credits.
“It is vital that when we make a promise to our nation’s military members and their families that we work together as a community to keep it,” said Derek. “Project Recover is the community arm that is doing what it can to accomplish every American’s mission. Together we will do all that we can to bring our fallen home to their families.”
“Our work isn’t done,” said Pat. “Our work continues and it’s important to keep the momentum going. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”