Chance encounter brings closure to family after 70 years

| May 13, 2016 | 1 Comment
U.S. Army Air Force photo

U.S. Army Air Force photo of a B-29.

Wayne Hankammer
U.S. Army-Pacific

FORT SHAFTER — A chance encounter with the U.S. Army-Pacific personnel section helped the family of B-29 Superfortress flight engineer 1st Lt. Donald Alexander finally receive closure – 71 years after the crew ditched in the Pacific following a bombing mission over Japan, Jan. 27, 1945.

While attending a recent suicide prevention class, Sally Spencer-Thomas reached out to the instructor to find out information about Alexander – the father of Betty Thomas, who is Spencer-Thomas’ mother-in-law.

The USARPAC personnel section staff assisted Spencer-Thomas in contacting the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP) and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

During her time on Oahu, Hawaii Spencer-Thomas visited the NMCP, where she was assisted by members of the staff in locating the marker for Alexander near the top of the memorial grounds.

“It was surreal to see the marker that honors Donald Alexander,” Spencer-Thomas said.

Wanting to know more about Alexander, Spencer-Thomas contacted the DPAA for assistance in finding additional information on Alexander.

The DPAA staff located the official final account of the last mission of the “Ghastly Goose” and her crew of 11 aviators, describing the successful ditching of the bomber. According to the four-page document, surveillance by another B-29 assigned to the 497th Bomb Group, indicated that most of the crew survived the emergency water landing. However, those 11 crewmembers were never seen again.

The following morning, when Navy rescue ships arrived at the scene of the ditching, all traces of the B-29 had disappeared. Rescue crews and airplanes combed the entire area, but could not locate the crew.

“It shed light with facts never known by anyone in the family,” Spencer-Thomas said. “It’s still an open wound for me having lost my father in combat. It means so much to me to have this information.”

Betty Thomas also expressed her thanks for everyone’s assistance.

“My children and I are grateful to have more information on the missing link in our heritage,” said Betty Thomas.


Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

For more information on the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, go to

(Editor’s note: Hankammer is the Suicide Prevention Program manager at USARPAC.)

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  1. Jpacker says:

    The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) was finally disbanded after an avalanche of scandals were exposed by NBC, CBS, Fox News, NPR, the AP, and Stars and Stripes. Multiple government investigations then found gross mismanagement and a total lack of leadership. The American public and families of our lost heroes channeled their anger, frustration, humiliation, and feelings of betrayal to demand the immediate removal of those responsible for what the the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, testified was “Disgraceful”.

    Sadly, the government’s idea of the massive reform necessary was a superficial name change of the organization and re-shuffling the same poor executives and laboratory managers to new desks and titles in a brand new $85 million dollar building in Hawaii. Even the management planning and construction of the new building was so inept that it’s original design contained no phone or computer lines and was finally completed without the proper fire suppression system for JPAC’s antiquated paper records system, forcing the government’s own researchers to travel offsite to do their job. Disgraceful!

    A “new” Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was created to replace the scandal plagued JPAC. The “new” director of DPAA was reportedly involved in selecting himself. Did he do this because he had just retired from the military and was looking for a new high paying gig? Ethically, does this inbred selection pass the smell test with any tax paying citizen or does it just stink? Disgraceful!

    The “new director” simply reassigned the previous JPAC Scientific Director to be in charge of “partnering with private groups”, which was announced as vitally important “to help reinvigorate a troubled POW-MIA accounting mission”. There are many truly dedicated private groups who refuse to deal with DPAA because of the past arrogance and abuse by this same old group of poor leaders and managers who continue to remain in functional control of the “new” organization. Disgraceful!

    JPAC had many dedicated men and women in non-management roles who believed in the mission: researchers, military recovery specialists, and field investigators who hack through jungles, climb mountains, and wade rivers only to be sabotaged in their work by a completely dysfunctional command. Those few essential workers that remain at DPAA are dismayed, disillusioned, disheartened, and disgusted at what they experienced at JPAC and what they now see as a lack of action at DPAA in holding those responsible accountable for the abysmal failures of their leadership. Disgraceful!

    The “new” director continues to leave unaddressed a long pattern of dysfunction, inefficient practices, wasteful and poor management, lack of leadership, more than 40 pending complaints of sexual harassment by command personnel, EEO violations, criminal investigations, lawsuits, and complaints of managerial reprisal that were detailed in scathing official reports by the Inspector General’s Office and the Government Accountability Office. Even more complaints have been added since JPAC was disbanded. Disgraceful!

    The same group of serial offenders responsible for this ineptitude remain in the “new” DPAA. The same group that brought us multiple outrageous scandals including phony “arrival home” ceremonies and the fraud, waste and abuse of government funds that produces only five or six dozen identifications a year with an annual budget that exceeds $130 million. Disgraceful!

    In 2015, DPAA produced a grand total of 70 identifications at a gross cost of almost $2 million per identification! This was a whooping one more identification than JPAC’s proven dysfunctional system produced the previous year! Five identifications in 2015 were from remains discovered by a private group at a construction site . Another identification was the result of a family filing a Federal lawsuit to force DPAA’s management to act after JPAC’s own investigation matched the missing serviceman’s identity with a precise burial location! But half of the 70 identifications were from remains turned over by North Korea in 1991 that had been sitting on the JPAC/DPAA Laboratory shelves for 24 YEARS! Disgraceful!

    In another 2015 management disaster, DPAA exhumed over 300 bodies from the USS Oklahoma dead buried at Pearl Harbor, promising the families prompt identifications. DPAA then shipped the remains to another DPAA Laboratory in Nebraska after separating the heads from the bodies, keeping the skulls in storage at the DPAA Laboratory in Hawaii. Most families found out about this dismemberment of their loved ones from reading the Washington Post newspaper. Disgraceful!

    Meanwhile the JPAC/DPAA management mantra of “Delay, Deny, and wait for the families to Die” continues. The current response time for basic information to families and researchers under the Freedom of Information Act is over ONE YEAR! Federal law requires this information to be provided within 20 days, which DPAA routinely violates without consequences. Disgraceful!

    The JPAC/DPAA Laboratory’s antiquated methods and dysfunctional management take years to accomplish identifications of recovered remains. if ever. There is a backlog of over 1,400 sets of remains of American service men and women sitting in cardboard boxes at DPAA awaiting identification right now. The AVERAGE time for identification after remains are received in the DPAA/JPAC laboratory is ELEVEN YEARS! Disgraceful!

    Anyone with any management experience knows that the entire operation that was JPAC should have been deconstructed, brick by brick. Such needed massive reform simply did not happen. Just when families of our missing servicemen and women thought things could not get worse, it did. The same infectious disease of JPAC arrogance and lies to the families of American heroes took root all over again at DPAA. This incredibly dysfunctional organization continues and has been added to the VA Hospital, Dover Mortuary, Arlington Cemetery, and the Viet Nam Unknown misidentification debacles. Disgraceful!

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