Prescott man brings closure to families of WWII MIA service members

An Arizona has made it his mission to find the remains of troopers missing in action by searching the world for WWII crash sites.
Published: May. 29, 2023 at 8:53 PM MST|Updated: May. 29, 2023 at 9:03 PM MST
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PRESCOTT (3TV/CBS 5) - In 2002, Clayton Kuhles began his life’s work of bringing closure to families of World War II service members listed as Missing In Action (MIA) by accident. Since then, he’s continued to search for aircraft wrecks and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do with my life. I mean, this to me, is my calling,” said Kuhles.

Kuhles said he made his first discovery in the Eastern Himalayas. “Most of the wrecks are in the India-Burma border because there’s the Eastern Himalayas. The Himalayas run east and west, but when they reach the top of Burma, they dive south so no, it’s the north-south range, and it creates very severe icing and turbulence,” said Kuhles.

In total, Kuhles said his team, MIA Recoveries, Inc., has excavated 28 planes. Some of them were found in China, Canada and Chile. He said all of them, except for one, were U.S. planes.

He said those wrecks account for 279 service members who had been listed as MIA. “Now, in most cases, the remains are still left at the site. I’ve done recoveries at some of these sites at the request of the families,” he said. “But the recoveries of all these remains after all these decades, is pretty much impossible.”

Kuhles has completed four recovery missions. He said it’s a dangerous undertaking that could take days to find the sites. Many are in remote areas, and crews sometimes need to cross raging rivers without bridges. “The fastest and easiest ways to die on these expeditions, is by drowning,” he said.

Despite the risk, Kuhles has another trip to the India-Burma border in October. A family in Vail, Arizona, has requested a recovery mission for the remains of 1st Lt. Robert King, whose plane crashed in the 1940s. Kuhles said he found the crash site in 2010. “When I was there, I did document many remains on the surface of the ground, and I just left everything in place,” he said. “But whether or not there will be remains of all the personnel, I don’t know. But we’ll do the best we can.”

He said his team had planned the recovery mission for November of 2022, but the weather conditions were not favorable. He said this mission could take up to a month to complete.

If remains are found, Kuhles said they will be handed over to the Department of Defense for DNA analysis. If there’s a match, the remains will be returned to the family. Kuhles said he accepts donations from families for these trips, but he uses his money to cover most of the costs. If you would like to donate to his nonprofit, you can click here.

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