UNO Anthropology Professor and Students Head To Berlin For Excavation Project (2024)

University of New Orleans anthropology professor Ryan Gray and a team that includes UNO students will spend part of the summer near Berlin, Germany excavating what is believed to be a crash site of a U.S. bomber from World War II. Two previous archaeological digs by Gray’s team in Germany and Austria resulted in the identification of three World War II aviators who were previously listed as missing in action.

“The experience makes history real for them in a way that no book or television program can,” Gray said. “It's a vital part of keeping the memory of the sacrifices that soldiers made in this war alive."

The six-week project is a continuation of a partnership developed with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), which has a mission to locate, recover, identify and return American personnel still unaccounted for from previous wars and conflicts.

In February, the DPAA announced that a 2019 excavation project in Germany resulted in the identification of a second missing airmen. A summer 2017 project in Austria led to the identification of a Tuskegee Airman in 2018.

The new project is being run as a field school in forensic archaeology, with support from the Henry Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Naval Medicine, which works closely with the DPAA on MIA recovery projects, Gray said.

"We're really excited to continue partnering with the DPAA and HJF to help fulfill the mission of accounting for missing U.S. service members. The partnership allows us to provide students with an unforgettable experience,” Gray said. “They work closely with faculty and students from the University of Innsbruck, with local experts on the ground in Austria and Germany, and with specialists in WWII history and material culture.”

It will be a joint effort with the University of Innsbruck in Austria and the UNO-Innsbruck International Summer School.

“I have seven graduate students plus our research associate going with me this summer, and we are going to be joined by Austrian colleagues,” Gray said. “UNO students will be joined by Professor Harald Stadler from the University of Innsbruck and a team from Austria, with additional support from experts from The National WWII Museum.”

Most of the U.S. students are graduate students specializing in cultural resources in the master’s and doctoral programs in urban studies or in public history, Gray said.

In addition, The National WWII Museum in New Orleans will send two people to Germany.

Jennifer Putnam, a research historian at the museum’s Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy and historian Erica Lansberg, who is the DPAA Research Partner Fellow at the museum, will participate in the excavation for a week.

“We are keen to strengthen the partnership both with UNO and DPAA, and this mission is a great opportunity to do so,” Putnam said. “We’re so grateful to be a part of the trip and to welcome our new fellow by showing her exactly what she will be contributing to through her research.”

In February, the DPAA announced that the 2019 excavation project in Germany resulted in the identification of another MIA World War II airman, Gray said. It was the second MIA airman identified as the result of that same project.

According to the DPAA, U.S. Army Air Forces Tech Sgt. William L. Leukering, 28, of Metropolis, Illinois, killed during World War II, was accounted for March 20, 2023.

Leukering was a radio operator on a B-17G Flying Fortress that was struck by enemy anti-aircraft during a bombing raid on German air defense installations in Memmingen, Germany in the summer of 1944.

Scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis to identify Leukering’s remains. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA analysis.

Prior to that, the DPAA announced on March 27, 2023, that U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Edgar L. Mills, 25, of Tampa, Florida, killed during World War II, was accounted for on Feb. 13, 2023.

According to the DPAA, in the summer of 1944, Mills was assigned to the 816th Bomber Squadron (Heavy), 483rd Bomber Group (Heavy), 15th Air Force. On July 18, Mills, an armorer gunner onboard a B-17G, was killed in action when the bomber was shot down during a bombing raid on enemy aircraft and air defense installations around Memmingen, Germany.

An excavation project outside Hohenthurn, Austria in 2017 helped authorities identify U.S. Army Air Force Capt. Lawrence E. Dickson in 2018. Dickson’s P-51D aircraft experienced engine trouble in December of 1944 and crashed along the border of Italy and Austria.

Dickson, 24, was a member of the 332nd Fighter Group, which would later become known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black military aviators to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

UNO Anthropology Professor and Students Head To Berlin For Excavation Project (2024)


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