After the B-24 bomber carrying Second Lt. Thomas V. Kelly Jr. was shot down off the coast of what is now Papua New Guinea in 1944, his parents had a gray tombstone etched with a drawing of the plane and the words “In Loving Memory.” The 21-year-old bombardier’s remains were never recovered, and for years, his relatives rarely discussed the pain they felt over his death.
“There were Christmas songs that would come on that my mom couldn’t even listen to,” said Diane Christie, Lieutenant Kelly’s niece.
But in 2013, continues Mike Ives in today’s New York Times, one of Ms. Christie’s second cousins found a website with information about the bomber he had been on. That led to years of archival research, culminating in a recent search of the ocean floor by a team of oceanographers and archaeologists.
Diane Christie, Lieutenant Kelly’s niece, said she was struck by how very young he had been, and by his constant concern for how his family was dealing with his absence.CreditTalia Herman for The New York Times
A few weeks ago, Ms. Christie’s phone rang as she was shopping for groceries in Folsom, Calif. Her sister was calling to say that Lieutenant Kelly’s plane — nicknamed Heaven Can Wait — had been found.
“I literally walked outside Whole Foods, and I burst into tears,” Ms. Christie said. “And I’m like, where did this come from? I didn’t even know my uncle.”
Heaven Can Wait is one of 30 United States aircraft retrieved by Project Recover, a six-year-old nonprofit that collaborates with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or D.P.A.A., the arm of the Pentagon tasked with finding and returning fallen military personnel.
The photo above of the B-24 bomber called Heaven Can Wait, to which Second Lt. Thomas V. Kelly Jr. was assigned, taken in 1943, the year before it was shot down off Papua New Guinea. Research by the Kelly family located the United States Army Air Force photo and hundreds of other documents.CreditU.S. Army Air Force/Kelly Family, via Associated Press.