MacArthur spotlights World War II MIAs

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A 2014 ceremony in Palau, where BentProp and researchers from the University of Delaware and Scripps Oceanography Institute recovered a U.S. Navy MIA airman and his Helicat fighter plane. (Photo courtesy Katy O'Connell, Project Recover)

A 2014 ceremony in Palau, where BentProp and researchers from the University of Delaware and Scripps Institution of Oceanography recovered a U.S. Navy MIA airman and his fighter plane. (Photo courtesy Katy O’Connell, Project Recover)

More than 70 years after the end of World War II, Norfolk’s MacArthur Memorial Museum is screening a documentary Saturday about a search for some of the more than 70,000 Americans who remain unaccounted for from that conflict.

Timed to coincide with National POW/MIA Recognition Day, the MacArthur, 198 Bank St., is hosting an 11 a.m. showing of “Last Flight Home,” a 2008 film. The documentary chronicles the effort to recover airplanes and MIAs in the Pacific Islands of Palau, which saw fierce combat during the war. More than 200 planes went down on and around Palau and, decades later, the crews from almost half of those planes are still categorized as missing in action, according to the movie’s website.

“It’s a great film and we just want to show it to people here in Hampton Roads,” said Amanda Williams, education manager at the MacArthur.

“Last Flight Home” was filmed over the span of almost six years, beginning in 2001. It highlights the efforts of The BentProp Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding and identifying American POWs and MIAs and repatriating their remains, according to it website. BentProp also works with researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Delaware, employing techniques such as sonar, diving and underwater robotics technology. Their collective efforts, a public-private partnership known as Project Recover, date back to 2012 and include initial funding from the Office of Naval Research, as well as private sources.

Williams first learned about BentProp almost two years ago, when Anderson Cooper featured the group in a segment for “Sixty Minutes.” Williams thought “Last Flight Home” would be a good fit for Hampton Roads.

Part of the MacArthur’s mission is to help tell the story of the men and women who served in World War II, she said. And “Last Flight Home,” which she and MacArthur staffers watched about a year ago, sheds light on the effort to find and repatriate some of those who remain unaccounted for.

“It’s a huge number,” she said. “I think a lot of people aren’t aware that it’s that high.”

Ahead of the screening, Williams and the museum have spread the word. They have reached out to members of the military community, including the American Legion and VFW posts. They expect to have an audience of about 100 people Saturday, including veterans, students, families and possibly one or two veterans of World War II, according to Williams.

“The film is still very timely,” said Dan O’Brien, who has been involved in BentProp for about 15 years. “There is still hope out there.”

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