MIA Airman from World War II, 344th Identified

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  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

An MIA Airman whose organization has ties to McConnell has been identified and accounted for.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced Aug. 30 that U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Donald R. Duchene, 19, of St. Paul, Minnesota, was accounted for July 8, 2022.

In the summer of 1943, Duchene was assigned to the 344th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 9th Air Force.

On Aug. 1, 1943, the B-24 Liberator aircraft on which Duchene was serving as the tail gunner was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed during Operation Tidal Wave, the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries at Ploiesti, north of Bucharest, Romania.

His remains were not identified following the war. The remains that could not be identified were buried as Unknowns in the Hero Section of the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan, Ploiesti, Prahova, Romania. 

McConnell Air Force Base has a tie to SSgt. Duchene, though the military lineage of the 344th Air Refueling Squadron here. A basic policy of the Air Force is that each organization will have a unique lineage, which is an official and traceable record of actions peculiar to each Air Force organization. Through that process, governed by the Air Force Historical Research Agency, today’s 344th ARS traces its heritage back to Duchene’s unit in World War II.

"The 344th Air Refueling Squadron today originally constituted as the 344th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on Jan. 28, 1942,” said Justin Vergati, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Historian. “The unit activated on Feb. 3, 1942 under the 98th Bombardment Wing flying the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber.” 

After traveling across four stateside airfields for training, the squadron arrived at Ramat David, Palestine, on July 25, 1942 for combat duty in both the European and Mediterranean Theaters' of Operation, Vergati added.

During this time the unit earned two Distinguished Unit Citations: the first for combat action in North Africa and Sicily, August 1942 - 1943 and the second partaking in Operation Tidal Wave, the low-level bombing of the German oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania, on August 1, 1943 – a mission that SSgt. Duchene perished on.

Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC), the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, disinterred all American remains from the Bolovan Cemetery for identification. The AGRC was unable to identify more than 80 unknowns from Bolovan Cemetery, and those remains were permanently interred at Ardennes American Cemetery and Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, both in Belgium.

In 2017, DPAA began exhuming unknowns believed to be associated with unaccounted-for airmen from Operation TIDAL WAVE losses. These remains were sent to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for examination and identification.

To identify Duchene’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological and dental analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome DNA analysis.

Duchene’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Impruneta, Italy, along with others still missing from World War II. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

Duchene will be buried in buried with full honors at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis on Oct. 5.