WWII airman's remains to be returned to metro Detroit family

Nearly 73 years after losing his life when his bomber crashed in the Gilbert Islands, a World War II airman's remains have been found and are returning Monday to his family in the Detroit area.

 Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Donald E. Underwood was killed when his aircraft "Miss Bee Haven" crashed upon takeoff in January 1944. He was a member of the 38th Bombardment Squadron, (Heavy), 30th Bombardment Group, stationed at Hawkins Field, Helen Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands.

After the crash, a physician found the remains of six people and interred them Main Marine Cemetery on Betio Island. Then after the war, the army's graves registration company began recovering remains on Betio from 1946-47, moving them into a single cemetery called Lone Palm Cemetery. It's believed the remains of those killed on Underwood's bomber were moved at that time, but his remains were not identified and he was deemed non-recoverable.

But in May 2017, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency worked together with History Flight to return to Betio to take a look at the remains again, then sent them back for testing.

Using dental and anthropological analysis, scientists managed to match Underwood's records. And now they're heading home.

His remains will arrive this afternoon for in-state visitation at Michigan Memorial Funeral Home in Flat Rock before they are later transferred to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.

Facilitated by the Michigan National Guard Honor Detail, his 91-year-old brother George and niece Joni Mehall will be present for the transfer ceremony.

The vitiation will be held 1-8 p.m. Friday 1-8 p.m. Friday at Michigan Memorial Funeral Home, followed by a mass at 11 a.m. at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Melvindale. 

Then there will be a graveside service at his mother's grave in Michigan Memorial Cemetery for a military honors performed by the Downriver Veteran's Honor Guard at 1:15 p.m.

Finally he will be driven to Arlington National Cemetery, where there will be a service at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28.

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