Coming Together To Honor Wwii Heroes...67 Years Later (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Coming Together To Honor WWII Heroes... 67 Years Later

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
But first, we head to Arlington County, Va. to the final resting place for hundreds of thousands of men and women who have fought to protect our country, Arlington National Cemetery. So here we are at Arlington National Cemetery, a very sunny afternoon, bright blue sky, a couple of clouds rolling by. As you wander the cemeteries 624 rolling acres, you'll see row after row of headstones commemorating service members.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:28
Here's one that says Thomas Scott, December 29, 1959. Military spouses Virginia Stevens, October 30, 1918 - October 3, 2005. Roughly 300,000 in total with 27 to 30 funeral services performed at the cemetery each day. Oh, someone left flowers next to this stone, a bouquet of yellow, orange, red and pink. But next week, Arlington National Cemetery will hold a funeral service 67 years in the making.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:58
As a group of airmen from World War II receive a burial with full military honors. And we recently found an 82-year-old woman. First, I just want to make sure that we're recording on the other end over there...

MS. JOYCE DAWSON

00:01:10
Yeah, you're recording?

SHEIR

00:01:11
I am.

DAWSON

00:01:11
Yes, she is.

SHEIR

00:01:12
...who's traveling from Rockford, Ill. to be there. Okay. Well, let's start at the very beginning then. If you could introduce yourself and let us know who you are.

DAWSON

00:01:21
All right. My name is Joyce Dawson and I'm the oldest niece of Robert Reginald Bishop who was a second lieutenant in World War II.

SHEIR

00:01:32
Dawson says she was very close with her Uncle Bobby who was just nine years her senior. He was a compassionate and selfless young man so she wasn't surprised when he volunteered for service.

DAWSON

00:01:42
He wanted to fly so bad.

SHEIR

00:01:44
Though, he was leaving behind a brand new wife.

DAWSON

00:01:47
They were only married three or four months and his wife was only five years older than I was. By that time I was 14, going on 15 and we met her and then he got shipped overseas.

SHEIR

00:01:59
And that was the last time Joyce Dawson saw her Uncle Bobby. The second lieutenant was just 24 years old when he flew his second mission over Germany. It was April 29l, 1944 and somehow the B-24 J Liberator aircraft he was piloting went down.

DAWSON

00:02:17
It went down with a spin and a full load of bombs.

SHEIR

00:02:20
Onboard were 10 men.

DAWSON

00:02:22
And all of them were killed, the whole crew.

SHEIR

00:02:25
But more than 4,000 miles away, back home in Illinois, Robert Bishop's family had no idea.

DAWSON

00:02:32
He was missing in action for many years and then you'd go to bed dreaming, saying, he still arrived somewhere. He's got amnesia or he's in a German war camp or some farmers have taken him in and he's still trying to get home. And you say that to yourself for years and years.

SHEIR

00:02:52
And that's exactly what Joyce Dawson did until finally in 2003, a German farmer located the site of the B-24 crash and recovered human remains which he turned over to U.S. officials. Two years later, a JPAC team, and JPAC's short for Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, began to excavate the site.

DAWSON

00:03:11
And so they started a process just like they do for the dinosaurs. They were digging it up, sifting through the dirt and stuff.

SHEIR

00:03:18
Finding all sorts of stuff as they did so. From little things, mundane things.

DAWSON

00:03:23
Buttons and buckles and coins.

SHEIR

00:03:26
To things that were pretty darn big.

DAWSON

00:03:28
They found a part of my Uncle's jaw bone with the teeth in it. So my brother gave the DNA and it matched. And we found my Uncle after all these years.

MR. CHRIS MCDERMOTT

00:03:38
In cases like this, there's many families involved. So we try to remain focused on keeping these cases from sort of dropping off the table once we learn about them, but understanding that it still might take several years for the whole process to be complete.

SHEIR

00:03:52
And this man knows that process well. His name is Chris McDermott.

MCDERMOTT

00:03:55
I'm a historian for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

SHEIR

00:03:59
Or JPAC as we heard earlier. And McDermott does research at The Department of Defense POW missing personnel office here in Crystal City, Va.

MCDERMOTT

00:04:07
We try to go through the archival records about individuals, the records about losses, to try to construct leads and information that might help us locate new clues or new evidence. We do field investigation based upon the information that we're able to collect and those sometimes lead to a follow on the excavation by a recovery team.

SHEIR

00:04:24
And that's where McDermott says military recovery efforts have vastly improved over the years, thanks to some pretty hardcore technology.

MCDERMOTT

00:04:32
Primarily, the biggest difference today is the archeological recovery that we will do on site in an effort to try to recover all of the evidence and then be able to pursue that evidence with the modern forensic anthropology, forensic dentistry techniques and the mitochondrial DNA avenues that we pursue and sometimes nuclear DNA.

SHEIR

00:04:50
But again, that technology has taken time to develop. At last count, the United States still has 83,577 service members unaccounted for. From the Vietnam War...

MCDERMOTT

00:05:02
We have 1,682.

SHEIR

00:05:05
...from the Cold War...

MCDERMOTT

00:05:06
...125.

SHEIR

00:05:07
We have 7,983 missing from the Korean War.

MCDERMOTT

00:05:11
And then World War II, the number is, of course, much larger. It's 73,787.

SHEIR

00:05:15
So back in Rockford, Ill.,. even though Joyce Dawson lost her beloved Uncle Bobby, she still counts herself lucky. I mean, yes, she says, finally learning of her uncle's death broke her heart.

DAWSON

00:05:27
Two gentlemen came from the Army and handed me this beautiful blue velvet bag and in the blue velvet bag was my uncle's one dog tag bent over and burnt. And when I held it in my hands, it just sent a chill through me.

SHEIR

00:05:43
But at the same time, finally unraveling that mystery, putting to rest all those late night questions about amnesia and war camps...

DAWSON

00:05:51
It's a blessing that we found out where he is and so he's happily, I hope, back home with his family.

SHEIR

00:06:00
Do you consider your uncle a hero?

DAWSON

00:06:02
Oh, most certainly he was a hero. Anybody that gets in the service and doesn't know whether they're going to be alive the next day or not -- I mean, my husband was in twice. So the first year of our marriage, we were separated. And it was hard, but he got home finally, safely and I hope all the others can, as much as possible.

SHEIR

00:06:23
Second Lieutenant Robert Bishop and his crew will be honored on October 26th at Arlington National Cemetery. They were among the 16 million Americans who served in World War II and the more than 400,000 who lost their lives.

SHEIR

00:06:47
To see photos of Joyce Dawson and her Uncle Bobby and to learn more about JPAC and the family update program offered by the defense prisoner of war missing personnel office, visit our website metroconnection.org.
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