The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, recently accounted-for from World War II, are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Francis J. Pitonyak, 25, of Detroit, will be buried September 22 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. On Oct. 28, 1943, Pitonyak was a member of the 36th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter squadron and was the pilot of a single-seat fighter aircraft. Pitonyak led a formation of four aircraft from Wards Airdome near Port Moresby, Territory of Papua on an armed patrol mission to Nadzab in the Markham River Valley. Due to rapidly deteriorating weather conditions and loss of visibility one of the four pilots aborted the mission, returned to base and immediately reported the other three pilots missing. The following day, an aerial search was conducted for the missing aircraft, with no results. The U.S. Army declared Pitonyak deceased as of Oct. 28, 1943.
In June 1987, a team of investigators from the U.S Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, accompanied by local witnesses, located the wreckage of an aircraft in the vicinity of Urulau Village, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea. The wreckage, which was largely intact, included a serial number consistent with the aircraft piloted by Pitonyak. In October 1988, a second team visited the crash site and noted the positioning of the wreckage suggested a low-angle controlled impact or hard landing, but they were unable to recover remains or flight equipment. In July 2016, a DPAA recovery team recovered possible dental remains and supporting material evidence from a site located in the vicinity of Urulau Village, Kerema District, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea.
To identify Pitonyak’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental analysis, which matched his records, as well as circumstantial evidence.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 73,007 (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Pitonyak’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at an American Battle Monuments Commission site along with the others who are missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.