59-year-old Gary Zaetz, an American Software Specialist who is based in North Carolina, USA, refused to be expunged down by the odds and diplomatic hurdles of US-India relationship in his decade-long battle to retrieve back the mortal remains of his beloved uncle Lt. Irwin Zaetz and other American soldiers, who went ‘missing in action (MIA)’ during the World War II, in the remote Damro of Upper Siang district in Arunachal, for whom final rituals is anxiously awaiting back home since 1944.
His uncle Lt. Irwin Zaetz’s was one among eight other crew members who flew Flight B-24 J nicknamed ‘Hot As Hell’ in November 1944, over the Himalayan range of Arunachal Pradesh, which was popular among US air force known as ‘hump’ during the war.
According to Arunachal Times, Lt. Zaetz’s flight assigned to the 14th Air Force, 308th Bombardment Group, took off from Kunming, China for a routine patrolling flight to Chabua near Dibrugarh in Assam to destabilize Japanese naval bases and army movements in the South Asia including North East India. The plane went missing and later the crews were pronounced dead on November 20, 1944.
Gary’s family members unflinching love and hope came alive after 62 years with the discovery of the plane’s wreckage by Clyton Kuhle, a private American investigator in December 2006. Gary, with the help of local guide Oken Tayeng and his porters, managed to reach the crach site after three days of trekking through the hilly terrain from remote Damroh, a village in Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh on September 27, 2008.
The moment he saw the remains of fateful flight B-24 J (serial no 42-73308) which were already covered with mosses and roots. Gary trembled down in tears and broke out the frustration of decades old separation, crying sorry with feeling of guilt to his uncle’s soul for not been able to bring his remains back home. However the mortal remains of his uncle and comrades is still not allowed to retrieve by the Indian government.
Since then, a campaign formed by the Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal MIAs, which has members from Arunachal Pradesh and the world across, have been persuading the US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requesting him to convince the Indian Government for resumption of recovery of the MIAs’ remains of the 400 American aviators whose mortal remains still lie trapped from their WW II crash sites in Arunachal Pradesh, which India hardly allows any country to access considering the strategic sensitivity.
Gary, founder and spokesperson of the Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal MIAs, in his letter also appealed to the Government of India not to hurt the sentiments of the aggrieved families of America Arunachal MIAs, who have waited 70 years since 1944 to bring the remains of their beloved ones back home for proper funeral rituals and requested the Indian government to respect its obligations under the Geneva Conventions to permit an immediate resumption of MIA recovery operation not only at one crash site in any given year, but allow the excavation process at the multiple documented WWII flight crash sites in Arunachal Pradesh simultaneously.
The uncertainty hovering question is how many more years would it take to fulfill the wishes of those fallen heroes whose remains is still uncovered in the jungle of Arunachal since 1944? Will the prayers of their aggrieved families ever touch the hearts of Indian Government on humanitarian ground and let the brave hearts rest in peace?