After 74 years, the remains of a Tuskegee airman lost over Europe may have been found
Tuskegee Airmen Capt. Lawrence E. Dickson was finally found after almost 74 years of searching.
On July 27th Dickson’s remains were discovered and recognized by the Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency (D.P.A.A.), an agency which investigates and recovers fallen militaries.
Dickson had been declared missing since his plane crossed the borders of Austria and Italy on Dec. 23, 1944, and was one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military airmen to be operated by the military in the United States.
He was just 24 at the time of the crash but was already an accomplished pilot, having received the Distinguished Flying Cross for meritorious service.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Dickson’s 68th and final mission was to escort a photo-reconnaissance plane toward Nazi-occupied Prague.
Dickson experienced some engine trouble towards the beginning of his trip and it eventually escalated to catastrophic during his trip back to his base in Italy. He was left with no other option than to bail out of his plane.
Unfortunately, Dickson’s wingmen lost sight of him, his parachute, and his plane after it went down. No other attempts were made at the time of his crash to locate him and so Dickson was listed as M.I.A.
According to the Washington Post, later attempts to locate Capt. Dickson was made by searching around Tarvisio and nearby Malborghetto, Italy, where Dickson’s plane was believed to have gone down. However, their attempts came up short and in 1949, the Army declared his remains “nonrecoverable.”
In 2011, Joshua Frank, a research analyst with the D.P.A.A., was tasked with investigating cases of military plane crashes in Italy, according to The New York Times.
Frank used eyewitness reports and military records to help fill in gaps of missing information about Dickson’s crash, which eventually lead to the agency discovering the plane’s crash site.
Then, in the summer of 2017 researchers from the University of New Orleans and the University of Innsbruck formed an excavation team and worked together to sift through the believed crash site in Hohenthrun, Austria. They eventually made a long-awaited discovery: human remains.
Marla Andrews, Dickson’s only child who was just 2 years old when Dickson disappeared, received a call from the Army’s Past Conflict Repatriations Branch in August 2017.
They told her that experts were now investigating her father’s case again after the excavation team’s discovery in Austria. According to The New York Times, Andrews eagerly submitted her DNA for analysis and then waited for the results.
The remains were sent off for analysis in November and last week the results came back that the remains did indeed belong to Capt. Dickson.
“I had given up a long time ago,” Andrews told The New York Times. “Now, I don’t have to worry.”
The pioneering Tuskegee Airmen hold a special place in American history. The all-black team of aviators flew more than 15,000 sorties during World War II and their performances earned them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Their impressive achievements also helped to encourage the integration of the U.S. armed forces in 1948 by President Harry Truman.
With the identification of Capt. Dickson’s remains, it is now believed that he is the very first missing Tuskegee Airmen to be recovered since the end of World War II. There are still 26 of the Tuskegee Airmen missing, though Frank says that they have possible leads on four of the other missing aviators.