The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced that, in partnership with Project Recover and other experts in the field, they accounted for ARM1c Wilbur A. Mitts. ARM1c Mitts was a radioman on a TBM-1c Avenger who, until this announcement, was Missing in Action from World War II.
Project Recover located and documented Mitts’ downed Avenger in Palauan waters in 2015. In partnership with DPAA, Project Recover recovered MIAs from the Avenger during our first MIA Recovery Mission in 2021. The Avenger took off from the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier on September 10, 1944. The crew was a part of Torpedo Squadron 20 (VT-20). The Squadron was on a bombing mission targeting antiaircraft positions and transport ships on and near Malakal Harbor and Island in Palau.
The USS Enterprise was there along with 15 other aircraft carriers. All were part of Task Force 38. Together, they were conducting pre-invasion strikes on Palau in preparation for the invasion of Peleliu. Mitts’ plane was last seen spinning violently at 5,000 feet and crashing into the water of Malakal Harbor. Born in Missouri, Mitts entered the Navy from California. Regional newspapers note Mitts was a welterweight boxing champion in the area, known as “Windmill” Mitts.
Project Recover located the Grumman TBM-1c Avenger in the waters of Palau in 2015 during our third year in partnership with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, University of Delaware. Initially, poor visibility and short bottom time led us to misidentify the aircraft as a Helldiver. Upon closer investigation, including 14 dives to 112 ft, we got the proof we needed to confirm this was a TBM Avenger flown by Lt. Manown. Dr.
Pat Scannon completed the site survey for DPAA. In August 2021, Project Recover conducted its first MIA Recovery Mission and recovered the remains of Missing in Action service members from this site.
ARM1c Mitts was among them. Ships of Discovery also conducted a recovery mission at the Manown Avenger crash site in 2019.
We held a flag ceremony over the Avenger in 2015, as has been our tradition from the start. Pat began by describing what was happening in Palau late in the summer late of 1944. The events he described contrasted sharply with the day’s serene water and clear blue sky. Pat read the names of the MIAs. Then, he recited the poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon. The team folded one flag for each MIA associated with the crash site. CAPT Mickaila Johnston was selected to hold the flags until MIA was recovered, identified, and next of kin had been notified. Soon the flag will be given to ARM1c Mitts’ family in humble recognition of his service and sacrifice and the enduring cost to his family.
MIA Recovery Mission
In August 2021, Project Recover conducted an MIA Recovery Mission on the TBM-1c Avenger. This endeavor marked Project Recover’s first MIA recovery mission in partnership with DPAA, Scripps, and Legion Undersea Services. The accomplishment distinguishes Project Recover as the only non-government agency capable of all aspects of MIA Recovery, including research, search,
documentation, and recovery of land or marine-based crash sites. The MIA Recovery Mission involved a 20-member team that outfitted a barge to support the necessary operations, including surface-supplied diving, a recompression chamber, a crane, and an archaeological station. In Project Recover’s article, MIA Recovery Mission in Palau, our photos tell the story of the people, diving, archaeology, and wreckage retrieval.