DAR rallies to commandeer remains
Frances Wright Weekley, a regent with the Daughters of the American Revolution, is spearheading a movement to have the remains of a World War II pilot shot down in the Pacific buried next to his parents in the Friendly Cemetery high atop Friendly Hill.
To the chagrin of many, Weekley says she feels it is the patriotic thing to do.
Lt. Jack Sterling Arnett, born Dec. 1, 1919, was a 1936 graduate of Charleston High School who grew up on the West Side. In the early morning hours of Sept. 1, 1944, the baby-faced Arnett found himself piloting a B-24 Liberator among an 11-man crew. He was not their regular pilot.
The planes took off from the primitive airstrip located on Wakde Island off the coast of New Guinea bound for Koror, 750 miles away in the Palau Islands. The trip would push the limits of the big bombers’ range.
It was on this day that Arnett, two months shy of his 25th birthday, was shot down. According to the official Army Air Force report on the mission, the first B-24 of the 307th Bombardment Group took off at 6:30 a.m. for the four-hour flight to Koror. Eighteen planes took off, but one turned back because of an oil leak. Arnett and his crew were shot down by AA fire over the target. Two directed hits were observed in the left wing and the #2 engine burst into flames, just as the formation reached the bomb release line.
Crews from other bombers observed two or three parachutes open, but no one from the crew of Arnett’s B-24 survived the war. The crewmen who bailed out were later killed by the Japanese.
Shortly thereafter, the crew was officially listed as missing in action, but the Army declared Arnett dead in 1946, giving up on the search for the downed plane.
In 2006, more than 60 years after his death, Arnett’s plane and the remains of his crew were located by a diving enthusiast 60-feet underwater.
Remains were identified by the Joint POW/MIA Account Command using DNA of living relatives. Arnett’s DNA was matched to his 92-year-old brother, H.M. Arnett, who lives in Florida where Arnett’s remains are to be cremated and laid to rest on Dec. 12 in a service with military rites. The surviving Arnett, also a veteran of WWII, suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.
But Arnett’s parents, B.B. and Dessie Ash Arnett, are buried at the Friendly Cemetery where there is a memorial marker for Arnett, said Weekley, regent of the Ohio Valley Chapter of the West Virginia DAR.
“The marker shows his parents wanted him buried next to them”, she said.
According to Weekley, Arnett’s mother lived to be 100.
“We’re going to try to show intent that that’s where the family wanted him buried if his body was ever found,” Weekley said.
Those efforts are in the early stages. She just learned of Arnett’s case on Thursday afternoon.
“I’m going in all different directions,” Weekley said.
But some do not share Weekley’s ambition for commandeering the remains. “It’s the blood relative who makes the decision,” said Greg Smith of Parkersburg, a retired Air Force colonel who worked at the Central Identification Laboratory at Hawaii while he was assigned to the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting. The lab identified U.S. soldiers killed in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
The chain of remains is the spouse, parents, then immediate family, unless there is a will or other document stating where the soldier wanted to be buried, he said. In addition to his brother, Arnett has a cousin in Florida, too.
“Her best bet is go to his brother,” Smith said, explaining that Weekley should attempt to make contact with the family.
Weekley is seeking help from VFWs and American Legions. Others are trying to find blood relatives still living here, she said.
“This is something big for our area and it’s the patriotic thing to do,” Weekley said.
Written with contributions from the Parkersburg News & Sentinel.