A Mission More Than Sixty Years In The Making

Koolau Mountains
Koolau Mountains

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE (KHNL)- A mission more than 60 years in the making is about to get underway tomorrow. The Navy is going into the Koolau Mountains to bring home a serviceman who died there in 1944.

23 year old Navy pilot Ensign Harry Warnke crashed his Hellcat Fighter in the mountains 62 years ago. 10 navy forensic anthropologists will begin a long and hard mission Monday to get him. Much of it will be dictated by the weather, as Dr. James Pokines, forensic anthropologist, explains. "We're flying in and out every day, we'll have to get the team in and out around the clouds."

It should last 6 weeks. After the team gathers all the remains, they'll take it to a military laboratory to confirm it really is Ensign Warnke. Inside the lab, scientists will measure and take samples of the bones. They'll be looking for clues like "does the skeleton appear male, adult, proper age, height, trauma that matches his medical records, and the teeth," says Pokines.

The remains found in the Koolaus are more than likely Warnke, but they need to be absolutely sure. Pokines says, "We have to be thorough. We have the location and the right crash but we have to be able to prove it."

After that, Warnke can finally go home to Indiana. Pokines reflects, "That's the word: closure. His family has an empty grave right now. They don't want him lying on some mountaintop by himself."

Now only weeks remain until Warnke gets his long overdue homecoming. The Joint Prisoner of War/ Missing in Action Accounting Command will do the work, mandated by Congress to recover remains of missing troops of all wars since World War II, whenever possible.