WWII 1st Lt. Ben B. Barnes on Wall of Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery Accounted For
On December 5, 1944, 1st Lt. Ben B. Barnes flew his P-51 aircraft as part of the 361st Fighter Squadron, 356th Fighter Grouper on an escort mission to Berlin, Germany to protect U.S. bombers. He’d only been in the European theater of operations for less than six months when he took off that day. On the return flight, Barnes, along with other aircraft in his unit, encountered the enemy. His plane was last reported northeast of Berlin over Eberswalde, Germany. At the time, the area where he was last seen was a Russian-occupied zone, making it impossible for an American Graves Registration team to further investigate. Because of this, Barnes was considered missing in action.
The political situation in that area did not change after the war, still prohibiting the American government from searching for Barnes’ remains. Unsure that he would ever be recovered, his name was inscribed on the Walls of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery in Madingley, England, along with more than 5,000 other Americans. American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) World War II cemeteries around the world include the names of those considered missing in action, lost or buried at sea. The location of the name is based on the area where the individual went missing, or near the airfield from which they flew. The U.S. government chose to do this as a permanent way to honor those that rest in unmarked graves. For more than 60 years, Barnes remained one of the many names on the wall—one of more than 70,000 Americans from World War II whose remains have never been recovered. But in 2010 the Department of Defense had a lead that they hoped would lead to a recovery.
A Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (now Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, DPAA) investigation team went to Germany in 2010 to conduct field research and interview an eye witness to the crash. The witness led investigators to the location of the wreckage, which was consistent with records from German investigators in the 1950s. With this evidence in hand, DPAA brought a recovery team to the site in 2015 to excavate. They recovered two .50-caliber machines guns well as possible human remains, personal equipment and material evidence. The serial number on the machine guns matched with Barnes’ aircraft. With the use of mitochondrial DNA, as well as dental and anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence, DPAA was able to identify the remains as Barnes’.
His next of kin decided to have his remains returned to Miller, South Dakota, his hometown, for permanent burial. On October 15, 2016, nearly 72 years after he took his last flight, Barnes received a burial service with full military honors. That same month, staff at Cambridge American Cemetery placed a bronze rosette next to his name on the Wall of Missing to denote that he had been recovered, identified and accounted for. Honoring Barnes did not end there; The Martlesham Heath Aviation Society and Control Tower Museum specifically honored him during their Remembrance Sunday ceremony on November 13, 2016. To this day, the local citizens consider it a duty to honor men such as Barnes, who were based out of Martlesham Airfield during the war.
Established by Congress in 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission commemorates the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. ABMC administers 25 overseas military cemeteries, and 27 memorials, monuments, and markers.
DPAA’s mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation. For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil, find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa, or call (703) 699-1420.