As we pause this Memorial Day to remember our fallen veterans, it is especially important to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation. Several years ago, Southwest Airlines joined this effort by offering transportation for our fallen heroes to their final resting place. Last year, as part of this endeavor, Southwest transported 308 fallen Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen home to rest in peace with their loved ones. This is a very large and concerted effort coordinated between our Cargo Department, the NOC, Ground Operations, Inflight Operations, and Flight Operations on 539 individual flights just in 2021 alone.
While every Military Human Remains flight is treated with equal importance and respect, some are very unique. A few years back, the United States Government began an exhaustive effort to identify the remains of service members killed in past conflicts. Using modern technology, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska began the tedious process of identifying hundreds of previously unknown remains believed to be our military missing in action and presumed deceased. It has been our honor to transport many of these heroes in a dignified manner from our Omaha Station to other stations across the country so these fallen can finally be laid to rest. Some of the fallen Southwest has transported include sailors who were onboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Soldiers and Marines from the battlefields of Germany, Airmen who lost their lives over Italy, one Medal of Honor recipient, and the father of one of our very own Captains who paid the ultimate price flying during the Vietnam war.
This is an example of a hero that Southwest was honored to play a very small part in the process of finally getting home:
Henry D. Mitchell:
In 1944, Henry D. Mitchell, of Elm Springs, Arkansas—just 23 years old—was shot down over Austria.
According to a news release from the DPAA, “In July 1944, Mitchell was assigned to the 48th Fighter Squadron, 14th Fighter Group, 15th Air Force in the European Theater. On July 8, he was piloting a P-38 Lightning fighter on a mission outside of Vienna, Austria. As his squadron was returning from the target, they encountered enemy aircraft. After combat, Mitchell responded he was OK about 10-15 kilometers northeast of Vienna, but was never heard from or seen again. Neither the Red Cross nor German forces reported him as a prisoner of war. With no evidence that Mitchell had survived his disappearance, the War Department issued an administrative Finding of Death on July 9, 1945.”
It was 77 years later when his brother, Bob Mitchell, learned that his brother’s remains were located.
After many years of wondering for the Mitchell family, Henry D. Mitchell’s remains were recovered on a private property in Austria. According to a news release from U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark, the former owner of the property wouldn’t allow searchers to excavate, but the owner’s son eventually gave them permission. The DPAA thanked the owner’s son for his assistance in the mission.
After all this time, Henry D. Mitchell’s remains have been returned home to his home state of Arkansas and laid to rest in Fayetteville National Cemetery.
Southwest Airlines is honored to play a small role in providing closure to the families who have lost their loved ones and we are grateful to the DPAA for their incredible efforts to recover these fallen service members. Most of all, we are eternally grateful to the soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation. This Memorial Day, we hope you will each join us in honoring these great men and women.