BY KATHY MCCABE
20 NOVEMBER 1943 - the Army Air Forces B-24D Liberator bomber with a crew of 11 is on a night radar mission over the northern coast of New Guinea. It is under instructions to establish radio contact every hour.
Staff Sergeant Roy Surabian, 24, is the radio operator. The only radio check came at 2145 hours, less than an hour after takeoff from Jackson Field in Port Moresby.
The plane never returned. The crew was declared missing in action. They were among thousands of American servicemen lost in the South Pacific during World War II.
But the Pentagon announced last month that the crew’s recovered remains will be laid to rest, 68 years after they were lost in the PNG jungle.
A group burial will was held late last week at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. “It’s long overdue, you might say,’’ said Charles Surabian, 83, Roy’s younger brother and only surviving sibling.
Seven of the 11 crew members were positively identified. Surabian was among the four whose individual remains could not be verified. Some bone fragments found were too small to yield DNA results.
The search had begun as soon as the plane disappeared over high mountainous terrain. After a year, when no wreckage or human remains were found, the government declared the crew dead.
But in 1984, government officials in PNG notified the US Army that they had discovered a World War II crash site. Airplane wreckage and human bones were found in a ravine deep in the jungle, southwest of Lae.
A team of Army scientists from Hawaii was dispatched to investigate. The team recovered plane wreckage and some human remains, but was unable to complete the mission due to threat of landslides.
Nor could the team determine what caused the plane to crash, but it was not likely caused by enemy fire.
Roy Surabian wrote home often. One letter, dated 25 October 1943, began: “Hello everybody. Just a note to let you know that I am well and living an exciting life ... the time is going fast for our crew.’’
He asked his family to send razor blades “sometime in the next two years,’’ and told them that he was safe. “If you are reading up on the war news ... don’t worry, as everything is under control,’’ he wrote. “See you later, Roy.’’
Less than one month later, a telegram arrived at his father’s grocery store, stating that he was missing in action.
“I was just a kid when the news came,’’ Charles said, his voice breaking. “I didn’t know what to think. My mother, she couldn’t speak English that well. It took her some time to understand ... To tell you the truth, I’m not sure she ever really did understand.’’
Photo: Army Staff Sergeant Roy Surabian (left rear) and the crew of the Liberator
Source: The Boston Globe, US