WWII C-87 Liberator Express Airman Identified


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WWII C-87 Liberator Express Airman Identified

By Bill Goldston

April 25, 2011 - The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced that the remains of a serviceman, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors. 

U.S. Army Air Forces PFC. Mervyn E. Sims, 23, of Petaluma, Calif., will be buried Friday in his hometown. On April 24, 1943, Sims and four crew members aboard a C-87 Liberator Express departed from Yangkai, China, in support of ?the Hump? resupply mission between India and China.

Prior to takeoff, a ground crew determined the aircraft had sufficient fuel for the six-hour flight to the air base on other side of the Himalayas in Chabua, India.

Once cleared for takeoff, there was no further communication between the aircrew and airfield operators. Army officials launched a search effort when the plane did not arrive at the destination. No evidence of the aircraft was found and the five men were presumed killed in action. The Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express was a transport derivative of the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber built during World War II for the United States Army Air Forces. 

A total of 287 C-87s were factory-built alongside the B-24 at the Consolidated Aircraft plant in Fort Worth, Texas. Converted former C-87s were the basis for a USAAF flight engineer trainer designated as the AT-22, a United States Navy VIP transport designated as the RY, and a Royal Air Force VIP transport designated as the Liberator C.IX. 

The C-87 was hastily designed in early 1942 to fulfill the need for a heavy cargo and personnel transport with longer range and better high-altitude performance than the C-47 Skytrain, the most widely available United States Army Air Forces transport aircraft at the time.

The first C-87 prototype was based on a damaged B-24D, serial #42-40355, that crashed at Tucson Municipal Airport #2 on 17 February 1943. Six Consolidated Aircraft employees riding as passengers were killed and several others were injured.

The prototype was converted into a transport configuration by various modifications, including deletion of the gun turrets and other armament along with the installation of a strengthened cargo floor, including a floor running through the bomb bay. The glassed-in bombardier compartment of the B-24 was replaced by a hinged metal cap to allow front cargo loading. A cargo door was added to the port side of the fuselage, just forward of the tail, and a row of windows was fitted along the sides of the fuselage.

In 2003, an American citizen in Burma reported to U.S. officials at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) that he had found aircraft wreckage he believed to be an American C-87 in the mountains 112 miles east of Chabua. He was detained by Burmese officials when he attempted to leave the country with human remains and artifacts from the site. The remains and materials were handed over to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon. Attempts to excavate the site are being negotiated with the Indian government. 

Meanwhile, JPAC scientists continued the forensic process, analyzing the remains and physical evidence already in hand. Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA, which matched that of Sims? sister, in the identification of his remains.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died. At the end of the war, the U.S. government was unable to recover and identify approximately 79,000 Americans. Today, more than 72,000 are unaccounted for from the conflict.

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