The remains of Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Eugene P. Ford will be buried Dec. 4, the Defense Department's POW/MIA Accounting Agency said Wednesday. Ford's homecoming is courtesy of an international scientific expedition including the Department of Defense, the Croatian Navy, a team of the world's top underwater archaeologists and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency's forensic anthropology lab in Hawaii. His story and their efforts were highlighted in a PBS special earlier this month called "NOVA: Last B-24."
Ford, 21, of Latrobe, was the pilot of a B-24J aircraft known as the Tulsamerican. On Dec. 17, 1944, the Tulsamerican was the lead bomber in a group of six targeting oil refineries at Odertal, Germany. Coming out of a cloud bank, the aircraft were attacked by more than 40 German fighters, the Defense Department said.
The Tulsamerican was heavily damaged, forcing Ford to crash-land in the Adriatic Sea off what is now Croatia. Seven crew members survived and were rescued. Three, including Ford, were killed. A search for the wreckage in the late 1940s was unsuccessful, and the remains were declared non-recoverable.
In 2009, a diver came upon aircraft debris off the coast of the Isle of Vis. He contacted the Croatian Conservation Institute, which sent two dive expeditions to photograph the wreckage. However, they were unable to identify the aircraft. In 2010, divers discovered a data plate with numbers matching Ford's aircraft.
In summer 2017, the Defense Department launched a joint recovery team from Lund University in Sweden and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. In cooperation with the Croatian Navy, the group recovered what appeared to be remains and personal items, the agency said.
In January, those remains were identified as Ford's. His daughter, Norma Ford Beard, 74, told the Tribune-Review that her father's wedding band was among the items recovered. Beard, who lives near Indianapolis, said her brother Richard, who retired from the Navy after 20 years with two tours of duty in Vietnam, developed a deep interest in his father's fate. Richard Ford died in 2008 and will be buried alongside his father, she said.
"He asked me if they ever found our father that I would see that he be buried at Arlington. I promised him that," Beard told the newspaper. "Their ashes will be in the same niche in Arlington."