Sister hopes to retrieve
remains from Koolaus

Myrtle Tice's brother crashed
a Navy plane nearly 60 years ago

Myrtle Tice almost gave up hope that the remains of her brother, a World War II Navy aviator who crashed into the Koolaus nearly 60 years ago, would ever be recovered.

Harry Warnke: The Navy ensign died in a crash in a mountain ravine on June 15, 1944

"I really hope that someday something could be done," said Tice, who will be 84 next month. "I am getting older."

The Arizona native wonders if any remains of her brother, Ensign Harry Warnke, are recoverable after decades being buried in the mud on the slopes of the rugged Koolau peak.

However, if all goes as planned, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command late next year will fly to the crash site 2,600 feet in a deep ravine in the Koolaus near Kawaipoo peak overlooking the H-3 freeway to begin excavation operations.

It was Tice who sought the help of her senator, Arizona Republican John McCain, 11 years ago to prod the military in renewing the search for her brother's remains after she was told that a civilian had located the wreckage.

On Feb. 11, 1999, the Star-Bulletin accompanied a nine-member Joint Task Force Full-Accounting team that found the wreck of Warnke's Hellcat in a steep ravine. The debris was scattered on a 65- to 70-degree slope. The crash site covered an area estimated to be 330 feet by 82 feet.

After landing on one of the Koolau peaks, it still took the recovery team another 45 minutes to hike along the ridge to the crash site. At times mist settled over the recovery team as it walked on the ridge line facing sheer drops on both sides.

Two 90-pound propeller blades were found and carried out. Two other pieces of the wreckage bore the number "82," Warnke's aircraft number. Also recovered was a part with "F6F" inscribed, noting the type of aircraft -- a Hellcat; large pieces of the wing and two tires.

No attempt was made to dig for remains. The team mapped the area, noting where the wreckage had been found.

On June 15, 1944, Warnke, then 23, took off from what was then Barbers Point Naval Air Station in a single-seater F6F Hellcat fighter. Warnke, who had enlisted after attending college in Gary, Ind., was part of an eight-plane flight that had already qualified for daylight carrier landings on the USS Benjamin Franklin.

The training mission of eight single-seat fighters was to test dive angles on a truck at Kapahi Point that had been placed four miles south of Kaneohe Naval Air Station, now called Marine Corps Base Hawaii. None of the planes carried rockets or bombs.

After making four runs, Warnke failed to rendezvous with his flight leader, Lt. J.D. Petersen. As they are on many days, the peaks of the Koolaus were covered in moderate overcasts for the early-morning training exercise.

Tice, who now lives in Green Valley, 15 miles south of Tucson, Ariz., said her family believed that Warnke had crashed into the ocean. A headstone was planted over an empty grave in the family plot in Westville, a small farming community in northern Indiana.

In 1993, Tice wrote to McCain: "I would certainly accept the cremated remains of Harry Warnke. This would put an end to a sad event. The return of a body after the war would have eased my parents' grief. They are now both deceased, but there is a stone and plot for my brother with their graves."

Earlier this week, in a phone interview with the Star-Bulletin, Tice questioned if any of her brother's remains could have survived being buried for nearly six decades. If Tice seems skeptical, it's because she has been waiting for nearly 60 years and she is concerned that she may never see her wish fulfilled.

"But if there are any remains I would like to have them," she said.

Shortly after the crash, Rear Adm. F.E. Bakutis -- who commanded Warnke's unit, Fighting Squadron 20, in 1944 -- hiked to the crash site and reported that the fighter had buried itself to the tail. A shoe was found. Warnke's remains were believed to have been buried near the crash site on June 17, 1944, but it was never marked.

In April 1996, Army investigators interviewed Bakutis, who told them about his visit to the crash site and that the plane was "completely imbedded in the mud and the only thing that was visible was a piece of the tail."

Bakutis drew a map of the area, explaining that he had gotten off the trolley that used to service the Omega radio station and had to walk several meters. He said that plane had originally been located by a lineman working on the Omega station.

Lt. Col. Gerald O'Hara, military spokesman, said he doesn't believe anyone has been to the crash site since the 1999 investigative operation. He said no details will be available until at least 90 days before the excavation mission begins.

A report by the 1999 recovery team estimated that the excavation could take up to 60 days and could possibly involve a platoon of 30 to 40 soldiers.

Each year the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command undertakes 10 World War II recovery operations, O'Hara said.

However, priority is given to operations in Southeast Asia and related to the Vietnam War, then the Korean War and lastly World War II, O'Hara said.

"The area is in the watershed area and will need permits in order to do a proper recovery operation," O'Hara added. "I don't expect that to prevent our work. (We) will just need to make sure we have all the proper documentation before we do the recovery next year."

The 1999 recovery operation was done when O'Hara's unit was solely designated to account for the missing in action from the Vietnam War. In October, the operations of the 11-year-old Joint Task Force Full-Accounting at Camp Smith and the 30-year-old Army Central Identification Laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base were merged. Until it was deactivated on Sept. 30, the Army Central Identification Laboratory, one of the world's best forensic facilities, was tasked with seeking out and recovering remains from America's conflicts, beginning with World War II.

A memorial is planned at the Naval Air Museum at the old Barbers Point Naval Air Station in the lobby of Building 4, said Brad Hayes, museum director. The Warnke memorial will be on display in the lobby of building 4 (the control tower building at Kalaeloa airport).

"There is a portrait of him when he was commissioned an ensign, along with a copy of the Navy accident report from the VF-20 Skipper, Cmdr. Bakutis," Davis said. They are mounted on the propellor from the F6F-3 that Warnke was flying when killed at 8:50 a.m.

Tice said that her daughter, Pat Turner, still lives in Michigan City, which is 15 miles away from the family plot.

"She would take care of my brother's remains if anything happens to me," Tice said.

Today, there is one American still missing from the Gulf War, more than 1,800 from the Vietnam War, 120 from the Cold War, more than 8,100 from the Korean War, and more than 78,000 from World War II.


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