FORT SMITH, Ark. — After 77 years, Lt. Henry Donald Mitchell will be laid to rest this fall.
It’s been more than 77 years since the Mitchell family was all together.
After Bob Mitchell lost the rest of his loved ones, he began asking questions about his brother Henry’s final flight.
“And I thought man I’d really like to find out what happened to him,” said Robert Mitchell, Lt. Henry's Mitchell’s younger brother.
Robert set out on a tenacious journey, with his first stop being then-Congressman Asa Hutchinson in 1997. Robert was given his brother's military records and his office began looking into the whereabouts of his brother’s remains on his behalf.
In the years following, the offices of Congressman Steve Womack and Senator John Boozman took over the search.
“It was one of thirteen active missing in action cases in Austria at the time. So we were kind of at a dead-end," said Chris Bader, a caseworker with Congressman Womack’s office. "Not really a dead-end but kind of at a point where everyone else had gotten to there. And we started looking at some other options.”
But with some help, in 2017, they found Lieutenant Mitchell’s remains on a game preserve in Austria.
“Well the landowner died, and his son now owns the land," Bob detailed yet another obstacle in his search. "We contacted him and he said well y’all can dig anywhere and whenever you want to you just can’t do it during deer season.”
At almost 91, the wait for his older brother was almost over and Bob finally got answers to what happened on July 8, 1944.
“He was flying in formation with some other P-38s and all of a sudden the flight commander didn’t hear from him. And said ‘Green two’ that was his code number and he replied ‘green 2 O.K .’ then they didn’t hear from him anymore,” Bob said his brother didn’t die by enemy fire. “And apparently, from what they’ve said there was some live World War II ammunition close to the crash site that had not been exploded. So, there was no fire on board so apparently, the plane was out of fuel.”
“Sometime after the plane was originally down to someone took the time to take Mitchell’s remains out and put them in a shallow grave that paid off decades later," Bader said. “The EPAA and the folks involved with the identification process had enough remains to make a positive identification as quickly as they can.”
Lt. Mitchell’s remains were sent to Nebraska where his body now awaits a military burial at the Fayetteville National Cemetery.
The wait is finally over as Bob Mitchell says the tentative funeral date is Sept. 1.
Congressman Womack’s office says it specializes in casework like this. The office staff says if you have issues with federal agencies to call the Fort Smith office for assistance.