By Daniel Brunty
The Winston County Journal
During WW II, the US lost hundreds of aircraft in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater of operations. Although hostile fire from Japanese forces accounted for many of these aircraft losses, the vast majority of US aircraft were lost due to inhospitable weather, mechanical failure or navigational error.
The crews and pilots of these aircrafts were also sometimes lost, leaving the surviving family members yearning for closure with their loved ones of long ago. The US Dept of Defense stated in 2004, that more than 500 US aircraft and 1,200 crewmembers and passengers remain missing in the CBI theater, with an estimated 416 Americans still missing in India alone.
Nowhere in the CBI theater were the aircraft losses higher than on the notorious Hump route between US airbases in northeastern India and airfields in China. Many of these aircraft have never been found, and their crews and passengers have since been declared Administratively Dead, Unrecoverable or MIA. The CBI theater and its Hump route might have more MIA US airmen than any other WW II theater of operations.
Clayton Kuhles has taken on the challenging project of searching for and recovering these MIA Americans. Kuhles’ initial focus of the MIA recovery project is on finding and identifying the crashed aircraft. After the found aircraft has been positively identified, a review of archival records is performed to determine everyone who was aboard the aircraft when it disappeared. Kuhles’ process is to file a detailed report that is prepared and posted on his website, www.miarecoveries.org, along with any relevant photos. A copy of his report is then sent to the appropriate government agencies. Finally, Kuhles makes every attempt to locate and notify the surviving family members of the personnel who were aboard the missing aircraft. Any human remains which he discovers at a crash site are delivered to the US Dept of Defense for DNA matching and then repatriation to the families.
One such occurrence is Kuhles’ discovery of two planes missing from a group of five B-24 heavy bomber aircrafts that left Kunming, China destined for Chabua, India on the date of January 25, 1944. Because of very poor weather conditions that developed while in flight, none of the five airplanes made it to the destination. Three of the crash scenes with the planes were found immediately, while the other two, “Hot as Hell” and “Haley’s Comet” were not located.
Enter Clayton Kuhles. Kuhles , who had visited dozens of crash sites in his past, made the trek to the Himalayas in December of 2006. This trip, unknowingly to Kuhles, would propel his cause into the national spotlight. Once Kuhles’ discovery of “Hot as Hell” was known, it would trigger a response from others who had lost loved ones in those WWII planes as well as creating a major investigative visit by the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC).
Many family members were able to find Kuhles’ website, which gave them a starting point in helping find information about their loved ones. The purpose of Kuhles’ website is to disseminate information about his ongoing expeditions in China, Burma and India to locate and recover missing-in-action (MIA) US airmen who disappeared in that area of Asia during WW II. Kuhles’ recovery expeditions are entirely self-funded by Kuhles with no funding from the U.S. Government, with a two-month expedition costing approximately $15,000.
Four years later, Kuhles would discover “Haley’s Comet”, the final missing plane from the group of five in the same region of India he discovered “Hot as Hell”. The co-pilot of this airplane was USAAF 2nd Lt. Toney W. Gochnauer, who is the grandfather of Louisville resident Wade Baskin.
Kuhle is hoping others agree that finding and recovering these long-missing Americans is a very worthy humanitarian project that needs to be pursued. Funding is needed to make this happen. Kuhle wants everyone to donate to MIA Recoveries, Inc., which is a tax-exempt public charity. If you would like to donate to this charity, visit www.miarecoveries.org or mail to MIA Recoveries, Inc., P.O. Box 12871, Prescott, AZ 86304-2871.