WWII air crews were lost in Himalayas.

India to allow U.S. teams to search for the missing

Posted: June 07, 2012

NEW DELHI - India agreed Wednesday to allow American military teams to search the Himalayan mountains for the remains of hundreds of U.S. service members who went missing during World War II.

"This is a humanitarian gesture by a government with whom we share so many values," U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in New Delhi at the end of a two-day visit. "The ability to return heroes to their loved ones is something that America deeply, deeply appreciates."

During World War II, the Himalayas formed part of a major aerial supply route, a mission dubbed "flying over the Hump." The route, which began at the eastern end of the Himalayas, wrapped over Burma and dropped into China, was dangerous because of cloud-knifing mountain peaks and bad weather.

Pilots flew the route to avoid Japanese-occupied Burma, and it was the Allies' only option after the Japanese blocked the Burma Road. Several dozen U.S. planes crashed on those missions.

For more than six decades, the burned wreckage of the planes and human remains were left strewn across the remote ranges. Now, teams from the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) can search for the remains in India and bring them back to the United States.

This week, Vietnam also opened three new sites.

The renewed energy for the recovery of remains is partly due to the fiscal 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, which set high annual quotas for JPAC. But some Pentagon officials say such nonconfrontational work also helps extend the influence of the U.S. military in regions that are not historically friendly.

The searches for remains in the region will not be the first. For years, an Arizona-based businessman, Clayton Kuhles, has journeyed up the Himalayas, crossed treacherous rivers and combed through dense jungles to find human remains as well as engine parts, identification plates, wing sections and other pieces of the planes.

He has posted his discoveries on his Web site, http://www.MIArecoveries.org.

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