SEASIDE, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A U.S. Navy Aviation Radioman First Class from the Central Coast who was killed during World War II was located and identified earlier this year – 78 years after the aircraft he was in was lost, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

The Accounting Agency says in the fall of 1944, Wilbur A. Mitts, 24, was the Aviation Radioman assigned to the Navy Torpedo Squadron 20, USS Enterprise. 

On Sept. 10, Mitts and two other crew members aboard the TBM-1C Avenger Bureau Number, 17018 took off from the USS Enterprise on a mission to conduct air strikes against enemy targets in Malakal Naval District, Palau Islands.

Officials say their aircraft was struck by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed into the water near Malakal. Efforts to recover Mitts’ remains were unsuccessful. After the war, the American Graves Registration Service, the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, conducted exhaustive searches of battle areas and crash sites in Palau, concluding their search in the summer of 1947.

Investigators say they could not find any evidence of Mitts or his aircraft. He was declared non-recoverable on July 16, 1949.

Between 2003 and 2018, the BentProp Project now known as Project Recover, and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conducted six investigations that resulted in the location of a site associated with the incident.

According to officials in May 2019, Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research, a DPAA partner organization excavated the site and recovered remains and material evidence.

In Sept. 2021, a subsequent excavation was completed by Project Recover, a nonprofit organization that works to search and recover missing Americans, where additional remains and material evidence were recovered.

Remains and material evidence was sent to the DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for analysis.

To identify Mitts’ remains, scientists from DPAA say they used dental analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

Mitts’ name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in the Philippines, along with others still missing from World War II. 

A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for. Mitts will be buried in Seaside, California on Sept. 11, 2023.