World War II sailor from California coming home for Sept. 11 burial

SEASIDE, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A sailor from California who was killed in action during World War II is coming home for his burial next month.

Navy officials say Wilbur Archie Mitts, who was shot down over Palau during World War II.

78 years after he was killed in action, Navy sailor will be buried on the Central Coast

According to records, on September 10, 1944, Aviation Radioman 1st Class Wilbur Mitts was part of a three-member aircrew of a TBM-1 Avenger, from Torpedo Squadron (VT) 20, that took off
from USS Enterprise (CV 6) on a pre-invasion strike against Japanese forces and
installations in the Palau Islands as part of Operation Forager.

Officials say the plane was last seen spinning violently before crashing into the water a few hundred feet from Malakal Island. All three members of the crew were lost in the incident.

On September 11, 1945, Mitts was declared killed in action (KIA) and posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

Following the war, the American Graves Registration Service, the agency responsible for seeking and recovering missing American servicemen, conducted extensive searches of combat areas and crash sites in and around Palau, concluding their efforts in 1947. Investigators were unable to discover any evidence of the aircraft.

In 2003, Project Recover began looking into the loss of the plane as part of the mission to locate remains of American World War II service members unaccounted for during the Pacific campaign.

After four projects and two investigations, the remains of the plane were discovered just off Malakal Island.

Mitts’ remains were recovered in 2019 and 2021 he is memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.

He will be buried on September 11 in his hometown of Seaside, at the Mission Memorial Park Cemetery.

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