Reichman writes a book on finding MIA remains
By Denise M. Baran-Unland Correspondent January 3, 2013 1:30PM
Art from Mark J. Reichman's book: "MIA: That the Lost May be Found." | Submitted photo
Updated: February 5, 2013 6:14AM
When you’re a New Tribes missionary living in Papua New Guinea and even contracting malaria has become passe, what do you do for fun?
Search for wrecked aircraft in the deepest recesses of the jungles.
In his first book, “MIA: That the Lost May be Found,” former Crest Hill resident and aviation mechanic Mark J. Reichman, 59, has chronicled his adventures, including finding the wreckage of a World War II Hudson bomber bearing the serial number A16-126.
“To have lost a loved one — a spouse, brother, daughter, father or son — during a war is a tragedy. How can we really understand the pain?” Reichman, now of Hawaii, said in his introduction. “But to receive a report that they are MIA is equally, if not more, heart-wrenching. The agonizing thoughts of what might have happened never go away, no matter how many years have passed.”
This fascination for completing the endings to those missing in action stories began in 2001, when Reichman found a Japanese dive bomber named Val. The next find occurred two hours west of Reichman’s Papua New Guinea home, near a mission where Reichman often delivered supplies.
After soaking up numerous battle stories, Reichman and his then teenage sons found unexploded bombs in caves and an upside-down aircraft lying in 21 feet of water and containing remains of crewmen. More searches through the years led to additional discoveries: seven more Japanese Val bombers, a Japanese cargo ship, a U.S. P-38 named Regina Coeli and a U.S. B-17 named Texas #6.
Now on fire for his hobby, Reichman followed more leads. When he located the Hudson bomber in the Gasmata jungle, it lay in several pieces, with bullet holes in its tail and unspent 20 mm cannon shell rounds nearby.
Reichman later learned that, of the three Hudsons participating in the bombing raid, only one returned to home base at Port Moresby’s Jackson Field. The Royal Australian Air Force sent out a reconnaissance team confirming Reichman’s finding.
From the team, Reichman learned how on-site clues provided additional information. The engines buried halfway into the ground spoke of the crash’s magnitude. The slightly bent backward propellers suggested they were not running when they hit the trees.
Although no human remains were recovered from that craft, the team retrieved a number of personal items from the crewmen — including a set of dentures — indicating the men had died in that spot.
The various possessions included watches, a pocketknife, revolvers, a ring, coins, a strapping buckle, four-point harness buckles, boot toes, knives, a comb, dog tags and a silver pen belonging to Flying Officer Graham Ian Gibson, pilot of the Hudson A16-126. This was in addition to finding more than 400 spent bullets from the ball turret dated 1937 and six .303 machine guns.
Part of Reichman’s goal in writing “MIA: That the Lost May be Found” was to provide the reader with a fascinating, factual, yet occasionally humorous documentation of his many adventures. He includes plenty of maps and photographs.
Mostly, though, Reichman wanted to offer hope to the friends and relatives of missing servicemen that recovery is always possible, even decades after tragic events. He also wished to commemorate those who lost their lives serving their countries.
“The memory and sacrifice of all casualties are honored and respected in the pages of this book,” Reichman said. “As for the missing in action, they are not lost or gone forever, just not found yet.”
Purchase “MIA: That the Lost May be Found” in print and Kindle formats from amazon.com. Reichman is available for lectures and he is interested in hearing your MIA story.
Contact him through the website mia-missinginaction.com.