Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Flight 19 Mystery in the Bermuda Triangle

John Steiger, a friend who has helped me with research in the past, sent a comment about Flight 19. He’d found a grave marker for Marine Staff Sergeant George R. Paonessa, who was one of those lost on December 5, 1945, when his aircraft, along with four others disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. This set me to thinking. Why
was there a grave for him at the Arlington National Cemetery?

If the flight disappeared and nothing of them was found, then how could there be a grave? And if there was a grave, did that suggest that the Navy knew more about the disappearance than they had let on?

Douglas Westfall, who appeared on the radio version of A Different Perspective and who, indirectly set all this in motion, told me a little more about this. According to him, Paonessa’s family hadn’t requested the marker, and they were surprised by it. He also said that those at Arlington didn’t know who had made the request and that there was no body in the grave.

All this struck me as a little strange. Why a marker at Arlington if there was no body in the grave? And, if there was a body in the grave, well then, Flight 19 hadn’t disappeared without a trace.

I sent an email to the Arlington National Cemetery, and they responded quickly, confirming that Paonessa’s grave existed, which we already knew. But it turns out that it is not uncommon for there to be a marker and grave at Arlington even if there isn’t a body to be buried in it. Those at Arlington sent the rules and regulations covering the placement of a marker when the body is unavailable. These are:

In the absence of remains, Arlington National Cemetery offers memorialization in specially designated memorial areas. Under federal regulations (32 CFR § 553.16), a memorial marker may be placed at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the memory of service members or veterans who are otherwise eligible for interment or inurnment and:  
Who are missing in action;
Whose remains have not been recovered or identified;
Whose remains were buried at sea, whether by the member's or veteran's own choice or otherwise;
Whose remains were donated to science; 
Whose remains were cremated and the cremated remains scattered without interment or inurnment of any portion of those remains. 
The one-gravesite-per-family policy applies to memorialization:
When the remains of a primarily eligible person are unavailable for one of the above reasons, and a derivatively eligible person (e.g., a dependent) is already interred or inurned at Arlington National Cemetery, the primarily eligible person may be memorialized only on the existing headstone or a replacement headstone, ordered with a new inscription. 
When a memorial marker for a primarily eligible person is already in place, and a derivatively eligible person (e.g., a dependent) is subsequently interred or inurned at Arlington National Cemetery, an inscription memorializing the primarily eligible person will be placed on the new headstone or niche cover. The memorial marker will then be removed from the memorial area. 
The second question was if there were others from Flight 19 who also had markers at Arlington? I already knew the answer because I have a list of all those lost from the Avenger flight. I had been able to
trace all of them except for two and found that a few of them had markers placed on family plots in other cemeteries. One of them mentioned, “Lost at Sea,” for example.

But then, a Martin Mariner, launched as part of the search activity for Flight 19 was also lost that night. It turns out that one of the crewmen on that aircraft, Alfred J. Zywicki, also has a marker in that section of the Arlington National Cemetery.

The information about the locations of both Paonessa and Zywicki was supplied by the officials at Arlington. According to them, “George R. Paonessa is memorialized at ANC at Section MG, Grave 191. In addition, Alfred J. Zywicki is memorialized at ANC at Section MG, Grave 73. Zywicki (US Navy) was on PBM-5 (Bureau Number 59225) that
went out to find Flight 19…”

It seems that part of the mystery is now solved. The last question is simply, who requested the marker for Paonessa? It is clear that someone had to do it.

According to what Douglas Westfall told me, the family didn’t do it. You might say the Marines did it to honor one of their own, but Paonessa wasn’t the only Marine in Flight 19, so you have to wonder why one and not the others.

I had asked a follow up question. “Do you know who asked for the marker to be placed at Arlington? Family say that they were surprised to learn that it was there.”

Those at the Arlington National Cemetery tell me that they are not allowed to release information about who requested the marker. They wrote:

Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) cannot release the interment or inurnment records without special legal permission from the family. Arrangements are made by the decedents primary next of kin (PNOK) or person authorized to direct disposition (PADD). The funeral operation, funeral elements and grave marker are provided by the United States government and the military service branches. So long as the service member is eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, their funeral is scheduled and operated with government and military resources. Transportation and/or delivery of remains of retired personnel, veterans, and their dependents from place of death to the cemetery are the responsibility of the next of kin. 
While this doesn’t help solve the mystery, it does provide us with some information. It suggests that the family had requested the marker… or in this case one member of the family had made the request. It might be that whoever made the request had not conferred with other members of the family so they didn’t know what had happened. Given the rules and regulations, it had to have been a family member.

At this point, I might be done with this. One of the leads I had to a member of the family ended when the phone was answered with, “The number is not in service.”

The second was an email address of someone who was likely related to Paonessa. I have had no response.

Still, I’m not sure that this particular part of the story needed to be traced any farther. There is nothing unusual about an empty grave at Arlington, the rules require the request for the marker to be made by a member of the family, and since the other members of Flight 19 have no similar markers at Arlington, but do in their local cemeteries, that seems to pr
ove the point.

As evidence of a cover up or of something even more sinister, this fails. I found nothing to suggest this proves the flight vanished off the face of the Earth or that the Navy had a hand in creating this conundrum. Instead, it is a family honoring a member who lost his life while serving in the Marine Corps.


Louis Nicholson said...

Kevin, You say that when you asked Arlington for the name of the person(s) requesting the marker they responded in part, that “Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) cannot release the interment or internment records without special legal permission from the family. Arrangements are made by the decedents primary next of kin (PNOK) or person authorized to direct disposition (PADD).“ That raises the question of what happens if the decedent has no living family member who can make a request for a marker? The answer seems to be that a “person authorized to direct disposition (PADD)" can make such a request. A quick Google search on the legal definition of a PADD person states,

“Definition: A person, usually the primary next of kin (PNOK), who is authorized to direct disposition of human remains. For disposing of human remains, under the authority of ... the Secretary of the Military Department concerned is deemed to have such standing if no other such person is available. “

So if this is correct, maybe the government concluded (rightfully or wrongfully) that the airman's family were all "unavailable" as they were to you when you tried to contact them, and that the Secretary of the Army or Air Force requested the marker.

Just a guess. This Flight 19 thing is really puzzling!

KRandle said...

Louis -

My response was going to be somewhat different. Based on what I learned from Arlington, it had to have been a family member who did it. Just about fifteen minutes ago, I received this information from a family member.

"Hi. My Aunt Louise, who has since passed away, was the one who wrote to Ogden Ried the United States Representative from Westchester County & that's how the head stone was put there."

So, this aspect of the case has been resolved.