Lt. William Q. Punnell Flag ceremony over his airplane wreck in Palau. Project Recover is committed to bringing the MIA home.

MIA Lt. William Q. Punnell located by Project Recover to be buried May 2


April 27, 2018


April 27, 2018 – MIA Lt. William Q. Punnell located by Project Recover will be buried May 2nd

On May 2, 2018 Navy Reserve Lt. William Q. Punnell, 27, of Flandreau, South Dakota will be buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

On July 25, 1944 four divisions (16 aircraft) of F6F-3 Hellcat fighters led by Lt. Punnell, took off from the USS Wasp aircraft carrier on a fighter sweep against targets throughout the islands of the Republic of Palau.  According to eyewitnesses, the tail of Lt. Punnell’s aircraft was shot off during a strafing run against the north Japanese seaplane base on Arakabesan Island.  His plane, continuing to dive, crashed into the waters offshore and sunk without exploding or burning.  Lt. Punnell was survived by his parents, wife, child, and two sisters.


In 2014, Project Recover located the underwater wreck site of Lt. Punnell’s F6F Hellcat resting in approximately 30 meters of water using cutting-edge technologies including Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) equipped with side-scan sonar as well as handheld Dive Navigators with forward facing sonar used by Project Recover’s scuba divers. The Project Recover team is comprised of volunteers, scientists, archaeologists, and engineers. More than 25 members of project recover participated in the 2014 mission in Palau.

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Based on detailed information provided by Project Recover, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) excavated the site in 2015. Andrew Pietruszka, formerly a DPAA Recovery Leader/forensic archaeologist who now serves as Project Recover’s lead archaeologist oversaw DPAA’s 2015 recovery effort. In March of 2016 the archaeological firm SEARCH, under contract with DPAA, continued excavating the site and recovered additional evidence and remains.  Forensic experts at the DPAA Laboratory utilized mtDNA analysis, dental and anthropological analysis, and historical evidence to identify the remains of Lt. Punnell.  In June 2017 DPAA announced that “Navy Reserve Lt. William Q. Punnell, killed during World War II, has now been accounted for.”

The discovery of the Hellcat was made possible by a substantial financial commitment from Project Recover team member Dan Friedkin, founder and chairman of Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation and chairman of Gulf States Toyota and The Friedkin Group.

It has been an honor for the Project Recover Team to locate this American MIA and help bring closure to his family.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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  2. Dear Project Recover,
    I have only recently heard of you through a story and video on Facebook.

    I am hoping that you can find my grandfather (and his plane and crew).

    Lt. Clifford Earl Whatley of Hope, Arkansas. He was a member of the 321st Bomber Squadron, 90th Bomber Group, Heavy, known as the Jolly Rogers. Lt. Whatley was lost on July 31, 1944 when his B-24J Liberator bomber, heavily damaged by flak and loosing altitude, was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean near Kameri, West Papua, New Guinea. Only 3 men (including the co-pilot) of the 10 member crew survived.

    I know that there were detailed reports from the survivors including the co-pilot.

    How may I help? What information do you need? Off the top of my head I do not remember their target that day, but I have an uncle that knows more about this than I do.

    I had several family members also see the article about you and wonder the same thing. They may also contact you about Lt. Whatley.

    His daughter and his niece and nephew (his sister’s children) are alive. Grandchildren too (as I am one).

    Thank you for the work that you do.
    I appreciate you reading my letter.

    Jeffrey Earl Mann
    Dallas, TX

    Virginia Whatley Mann
    Texarkana, TX

    1. Project Recover gratefully acknowledges the sacrifice in defense of our country made by your grandfather, as well as the consequent sacrifices made by you and your family to this day. I am sending your information to our Historians, they will contact you soon with advice and help with next steps. Very Respectfully, Project Recover