Lt. Henry Donald Mitchell was shot down in Austria in 1944; his remains were finally identified
(Tribune News Service) — The remains of a World War II fighter pilot from Arkansas who crashed in Austria in 1944 were recently identified by the Department of Defense.
For the family of 2nd Lt. Henry Donald Mitchell of Harmon, Ark., the 77-year wait is finally over. Bob Mitchell of Fort Smith has pushed for decades to find the remains of his big brother after he was listed as missing in action in 1944. The pilot crash-landed in a deeply wooded area near Waldegg, Austria after a flight sweep to Vienna with the 48th Fighter Squadron on July 8, 1944.
Mitchell was informed Wednesday by the Arkansas Congressional Delegation that the remains of Lt. Mitchell were identified by the U.S. Department of POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Just weeks ago, he thought the wait to identify the remains could be up to two years.
“Someone buried him in a shallow grave to protect him from the wild animals,” Bob Mitchell said Thursday, joyful of the discovery.
The remains will be returned to Arkansas in the coming weeks. A funeral will be held at the Fayetteville National Cemetery with full military honors. There has been a headstone there for Lt. Mitchell recognizing him as an MIA since World War II.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack said in a joint news release the news comes after a decades-long search — and the joint efforts of the Mitchell family, Arkansas congressional members, Department of Defense, and international representatives — to find and identify Lt. Mitchell.
“Perpetually, we have to be reminded of the cost of war,” Boozman said. “This was a young guy serving his country and now the community and the state can welcome him back home and thank him for his service.”
Boozman said contact with the Austrian ambassador to the United States and the U.S. ambassador to Austria “made a big difference” in the search following the death of the former landowner where Lt. Mitchell crashed. Incidentally, a key figure in the search was Tom Holland, a Fort Smith native who is with the U.S. Department of POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Womack called Lt. Mitchell “an American hero who helped defend freedom against tyranny” and recognized that for Bob Mitchell, he was not only that but also a brother.
“He felt a duty to bring his loved one home and never gave up,” Womack said in the release. “It was our privilege to be part of that mission.”
Womack thanked the relentless work of Chris Bader in his Fort Smith office and every stakeholder involved.
“This was about serving those who served us,” Womack added.
“On behalf of a grateful nation, we are thankful for Lt. Mitchell’s service and sacrifice,” Boozman said in the release. “This is a reminder of the cost of war and reaffirms our commitment to ensure that our service members return home. There is nothing better than helping reunite these brothers. Bob has been a relentless advocate for his big brother and we are honored to play a role in his homecoming.”
Bob Mitchell, now 91, said he was thankful the identification happened now. He had been concerned he would pass away before his brother’s remains were identified and brought home.
Lt. Mitchell’s story
On July 8, 1944, shortly before noon near Waldegg, Austria, 23-year-old 2nd Lt. Henry Donald Mitchell crashed after his aircraft, a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, was shot down during a mission with the 48th Fighter Squadron. After an enemy aircraft opened fire on the unit, Lt. Mitchell had radioed in “Green Two, O.K.,” but was never heard from or seen again.
In 1997, Lt. Mitchell’s younger brother, Bob Mitchell of Fort Smith began a search to find his brother and bring his remains back to Arkansas. He reached out to then- U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson’s congressional office for help in obtaining military records, which is when official casework began.
Since that time, Womack’s and Boozman’s staff members explored all avenues to learn the fate of Lt. Mitchell. The information led to Womack’s office connecting with Markus Reisner, who leads a group in Austria that searches for downed World War II aircraft.
In 2017, using information from the U.S. military and interviews with locals who recalled the crash, Reisner and his group found Henry Mitchell’s P-38. However, the landowner would not allow excavation of the property. Womack and Boozman staff members connected with the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and diplomats between the United States and Austria to allow for recovery operations to move forward.
Thanks to these efforts, the DPAA was able to begin search and excavation operations on the crash site in 2020. The remains of Lt. Mitchell were found, identified, and will now be repatriated to the U.S. As a special honor for the fallen pilot, a restored Lockheed P-38 of Salzburg’s The Flying Bulls flew over the site where Lt. Mitchell’s remains were found.
(c)2021 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)
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