Military identifies remains found on Oahu as World War II aviator

HONOLULU (AP) — Remains recovered in 2016 from mountainous terrain near Kahuku Point have been identified as a lost World War II aviator.

Navy Reserve Ensign Harold P. DeMoss, 21, was circling Oahu on a night training flight with two other F6F-3 Hellcats on June 23, 1945, when his plane separated from the others in cloud cover, The Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

The crashed and burning plane was spotted from the air the next day.

DeMoss’ niece, Judy Ivey, said the family was told earlier this month by military officials that their relative had been identified. She said his wedding ring and pilot’s wings also were recovered.

James DeMoss, Ivey’s father, is the pilot’s only sibling.

“I’m excited, and now I’m just more anxious than ever,” Ivey said. “My mom passed away March 4, and that put even more of an urgency in my mind to get this done, because my dad’s 85.”

The search for DeMoss “was important for my grandparents. They started it,” Ivey said. “They continued it from the day he crashed — trying to get him brought home.”

A military search party in 1945 found the still-smoking plane in rugged terrain and buried the remains of a person who could not be identified.

The Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery said in a 1948 letter to the family that “an attempt to recover the remains was considered impracticable” because the site was 7 miles from a traveled highway and could be reached only “on foot over rocky ledges, through heavy undergrowth, and over extremely rugged and dangerous ground.”

Ivey sought help from Ted Darcy and the WFI Research Group, which compiles and preserves World War II records. Darcy, in turn, got in touch with the Hawaii Aviation Preservation Society, which located the crash site in late 2011.

A nine-person military team from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which has a lab on Oahu, dug through mud and plane wreckage in 2016 to find DeMoss’ remains.

The Army provided Black Hawk helicopters to drop off team members who had to descend hundreds of feet on a cable to reach the remote site.

Arrangements are still being made to return the aviator for burial in a family plot in Nashville that contains DeMoss family members back to the 1800s, Ivey said.