Finally Home: Honoring Airmen lost in WWII

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Gage Daniel
  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

“They’re home now. They can rest, we’ve got the watch.”

Capt. Andrew Blevins, 700th Airlift Squadron pilot, said this regarding 2nd Lt. Porter Pile, co-pilot, and Master Gunnery Sgt. Jim Triplett, radio operator, who were unaccounted for, for nearly 80 years after an attack by German pilots in WWII.

On September 27, 1944, the 8th Air Force dispatched roughly 491 aircraft to destroy tracked armored-vehicles factories and their infrastructure in Kassle, Germany.

Due to a navigational error, the lead plane of the 445th Bombardment group, to which Pile and Triplett were assigned, turned nearly due east, rather than east-southeast, with approximately 35 aircraft following and passing by Kassle entirely. As a result of flying the misdirection, they then had no fighter aircraft support. After attempting to bomb a rail yard, they turned west and flew over Seulingswald Forest, where they were almost immediately attacked by roughly 150 German fighters.

During the brief attack by anti-bomber capable aircraft, approximately 25 bombers were shot down on location while 10 managed to barely escape with the support of the 361st Fighter Group; however, six of the remaining aircraft crashed before reaching their base in Norfolk, England. This resulted in only four aircraft returning safely.

An estimated 31 planes were downed, 118 members were killed and 121 people ended up in Prisoner of War camps.

Of the (now officially) deceased were two Airmen assigned to the 700th Bombardment Squadron (now the 700th Airlift Squadron), Pile and Triplett. They were still unaccounted for until 2015, when a multi-year, three-mission excavation took place at the site of their plane crash. Finally, in the fall of 2022, Pile and Triplett were officially accounted for and declared deceased after a variety of DNA and other genetic testing.

On October 31st, Pile and Triplett were buried at Arlington National Cemetery during a dual-memorial service, surviving family members were given an opportunity to honor and celebrate them together. During the ceremony, members from the 700th Airlift Squadron and 94th Airlift Wing from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., participated in a fly-over to commemorate the lives of them.

“Every member was locked in,” Blevins said. “Arlington is the Mt. Everest of flyovers, and we were ready to honor our fallen.”

“It was a memorable experience,” said Blevins. “As we began our approach, the airport cleared the skies for us, and when we were about a minute out, everyone on board was silent. It wasn’t just about flying over, it was about our comrades coming home, and it’s a part of who we are now. It’s our history.”