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Family hopes Concord’s MIA soldier from WWII is found

Family members of Pike County’s only Missing In Action hero – Lt. Robert Eugene Oxford of Concord – are hoping a recent excavation trip to India will reveal details about Oxford’s final mission, nearly 72 years after he and seven other Army Air Corps members aboard a B-24J aircraft crashed in the Himalayan Mountains. A recent recovery mission has resulted in the discovery of human remains but they have not yet been identified. ’It really was an incredible experience and an unforgettable success being able to bring back remains and other evidence which hopefully will be identified as belonging to one or more of our unaccounted-for service members from WWII,’ said anthropologist, Dr. Meghan-Tamisita Cosgriff-Hernandez, who was part of the recovery team who excavated the area in October of this year. Oxford was born in 1919 in Concord to Charlie and Bessie Oxford as the youngest of six children. He graduated from Concord High School in 1938 and worked on his family’s farm and at the Concord Post Office when World War II broke out. He was engaged to Susan Brown. He decided to join the Army before being drafted and ended up being a bombardier aboard a plane nicknamed the Hot as Hell. ’He was on his last mission and then they were coming home,’ said Merrill Roan, wife of Bill Roan, Lt. Oxford’s nephew. ‘He left behind his mother, father, three brothers and a sister and his fiancee. We are asking for prayers that his remains are found and that all of the families involved get some closure from returning them home to the country they fought for.’ On Jan. 25, 1944, the Hot as Hell departed Kunming, China for Chabua, India in the flight path that was the standard route over the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. The aircraft Oxford was aboard never arrived at its destination. Months later its eight-member crew was declared administratively dead. Among the dead was Oxford, serial number 0-663308. ’Missions were considered dangerous but important, because most of the almost daily flights were an essential part of the Allied effort to keep China in the fight against Japan,’ said Post 197 historian Bryan Richardson. ‘Each bombing mission against the enemy required several supply ferries, so combat cargo crews flew regardless of weather.’ The Hot as Hell crash site and wreckage, encompassing about 10 acres, were first discovered on Dec. 7, 2006, near Damroh, Arunachal Pradesh State, India, by Clayton Kuhles of Prescott, Arizona. Kuhles enjoyed taking trips to hike in the mountains in India and one of his guides asked if he’d like to see remains from a WWII crash. He has made efforts to help recover several other military crash sites since and details each find at Lt. Oxford’s brother Fred Oxford was notified by family members in 2007 that the site where his brother’s plane crashed had been found. Fred passed away in 2011. ’I watched my mother-in-law take her last breath not knowing what happened to her brother. We used to have talks about him and wondering if he survived or not,’ said Roan. ‘We do deserve to know what they found,’ she said. Roan said the family had no idea a recovery mission was underway or had been conducted in October until they saw media stories about it on Veterans Day. The Department of Defense issued a press release about the recovery efforts Nov. 18. Efforts began on Oct. 2 with a 10-mile hike through treacherous terrain climbing nearly 10,000 feet to the base of the summit where a base camp was set up as home for the team’s 35-day mission. To reach the site, the team walked a mile and a half each day, climbing about 1,000 feet along the way. Working on the mountain side was extremely risky as the team had to dig on slopes ranging from 30 to 60 degree inclines. The excavation process was slow due to the larger amounts of moss covering the soil which revealed large unstable boulders underneath the excavation area. ’Eleven days into the excavation, the team made an uplifting discovery as they unearthed potential evidence of the aviators they were searching for,’ said SSgt Erik Cardenas. ‘The sense of accomplishment and excitement permeated throughout the team members as the possibility of identifying one of the missing was a close reality. Only a few days later the team was once again rewarded as more evidence emerged from the mountainside.’ DNA evidence will be used to identify the remains. DNA from Susan Roan Smith and Bill Roan, both children of his sister Martha Oxford Roan, was submitted after the crash site’s discovery in 2007 and since then, Tommy Oxford the son of his brother Paul Oxford also submitted DNA to hopefully help identify Lt. Robert Oxford’s remains. ’He had one brother alive in Atlanta when the plane was first found. We were able to show him pictures of his brother’s plane halfway around the world and when he died, he left money in case his remains were found so he could be buried in Concord,’ said Roan. ‘We don’t know how long it’s going to take but they have DNA from both sides of the family and we are praying for answers soon.’

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