There's nothing in the yellowed photo of a cherubic baby Joseph Thompson to suggest the hard luck life he would have, but maybe there's a hint of the miracles his family sees in his recovery.
Eliza Miller and John Smith lived in the Blue Earth country of Mankato, Minnesota when their son was born May 3, 1917. They'd married young and it didn't last, by the time Joseph was 4 his mom and dad had split up, a source of shame at the time. Family lore has it that Eliza's parents pressured her to give up her child to another local family for adoption, and to move away to Stewartville, MN, never to see him again. Not many details are known about Joseph's adopted life, he had a sister who no one has been able to identify, and his only known relative, a nephew, only recalls seeing him once. We'll never know if it was a troubled relationship at home or tough depression times that led Joseph to leave home early and join the Air Corps. For the next 60 years all we knew was he was assigned to the 63rd Squadron of the 43rd Bomber Group in Dobodura, New Guinea. That Group earned renown for its Skip bombing expertise flying in low and skipping bombs, like stones on a pond, into the sides of Japanese ships. Exploding on the side of the ship at the waterline increased the odds of a sinking. These bombers flew dangerous missions for high returns. On December 3, 1943 he replaced a gunner on an 11 man B-24, named the "Swan", for an armed reconnaissance flight over the Bismarck See. His plane, B24D-60-CO serial #42-40475, went down on December 3rd, 1943 over Papua New Guinea. Its last message radioed at midnight was "Why aren't lights on?". Presumably as it could not find Dobodura. Searches focusing on the Bismarck see yielded nothing and Joseph, the hard luck kid with the tenuous family connection, disappeared from memory.
For the next 60 years all we knew was he was assigned to the 63rd Squadron of the 43rd Bomber Group in Dobodura, New Guinea. That Group earned renown for its Skip bombing expertise flying in low and skipping bombs, like stones on a pond, into the sides of Japanese ships. Exploding on the side of the ship at the waterline increased the odds of a sinking. These bombers flew dangerous missions for high returns. On December 3, 1943 he replaced a gunner on an 11 man B-24, named the "Swan", for an armed reconnaissance flight over the Bismarck See. His plane, B24D-60-CO serial #42-40475, went down on December 3rd, 1943 over Papua New Guinea. Its last message radioed at midnight was "Why aren't lights on?". Presumably as it could not find Dobodura. Searches focussing on the Bismarck see yielded nothing and Joseph, the hard luck kid with the tenuous family connection, disappeared from memory.
Until Sandy started wondering about her Dad.
Sandy Smith was born in 1944. Her Australian mother Joyce Pardella had fallen in love with American Joseph Thompson while he was based there en route to New Guinea and Sandy was their child. Sixty four years after Joe's death Sandy found her mother's friend form the 1940's who wrote her the following.
"I am just writing to tell you about your Dad Joe Thompson. I got to know Joe very well when he was here on furlough. Your mom and I were very good mates. We were always together and told each other all our problems. Your mom told me she met a nice guy, so my sailor friend and I and your mom and Joseph became a foursome. It wasn't long and I could see Joe was smitten with your mom. They were both so happy. They told me your mom was pregnant. Joe was over the moon. His leave was getting over but he didn't want to go back and leave your mom so he went AWOL. It was quite a while before he was picked up by the MP's (Military Police). It was a very sad day for us all. After he went back we had no news from him. Your mom was frantic when you were born. Joe loved you very much. Your Dad would have been so proud of you. He was a very loving man. I'm glad to call him my friend. All my love and best of luck"
When Sandy began her search for Joe's family in 1984 she had not known Joe was adopted. When she discovered that he was through American military records, she decided she wanted to let his birth mother know he had died in 1943. Working through friends and amateur researchers by 2002 she found Joe's birth family, chiefly his cousin's line, the Fox's. Though Joe's mother Eliza had died 20 years earlier, Joe's birth family embraced her, and, through them she learned of Joe's surviving adoptive family. In Carolyn Fox's eyes, this is the first miracle. That 59 years after his death, Joe's daughter, birth family and adoptive family were now together, and sharing a concern for Joe. But that year had more miracles in store for them.
Having learned Joseph was an MIA, Carolyn posted an email on her family web site requesting help finding him. Three more coincidences, or maybe it's 3 more miracles, came in rapid succession.
In New Guinea, a local native by the name of John Arête was reported as having in his possession a crew-member's dog-tag from the plane Joe had been on. Word of this had reached John Douglas, an Australian living in Papua New Guinea who searched for the Missing. If this was accurate, clearly this town and this man were the keys to finding the bomber. 30 miles to the south east is the town of Popondetta which provided airfield access to the area. This is the field the "Swan" was seeking when it crashed in 1943. From there a boat trip along the coast and a banana boat to Deboin would take searchers to a cross-country starting point.
Back in the US Carolyn's web site elicited a reply from an American eager to help as well. Christopher Moon was not only experienced in locating the missing, but unknown at the time to either Carolyn or Chris, they lived in adjacent towns in Minnesota. A million to one connection had been made and a new search for Joseph Thompson's bomber had begun. Carolyn passed on to Christopher and his father Bryan Moon all the evidence she had gathered from US, Papua New Guinea and Australian sources which focused on the Owen Stanley Range of mountainous jungle near Cape Ward Hunt on the north shore of the island. Efforts by both Douglas and Moon, each seeking the B 24 "The Swan", came together in 2003.
Following up on Moons account. "Our Papuan colleague Michael Roy and his two colleagues reached Deboin at 5.30pm on Tuesday, June 24th after a banana-boat trip. The small town of 600 people received them well and they enquired about the man John Arete who reportedly had a crew-man's dog-tag. There was no such person but there was a John Atade who had left to become a. missionary. His father Johnson Karigo was the village Chief who, with his son, had originally found the lost bomber on May 12th 2002 and was the only other person who knew the aircraft's location.
The Chief agreed to guide Michael and his party to the crash site, a torturous six hour walk climbing mountains and thick jungle, wading through water and almost impassable thick bush which cut and poison the skin. They reached the crash site only to find that on hitting the mountainside, the aircraft had broken into pieces which were scattered and partially buried. The fuselage was half full of soil. All four engines were at the site but one wing had settled near a village.
After taking photographs at the crash site, the Chief guided Michael back to Deboin offering to cut a path through the thick bush if the Moon's came to Deboin. When asked about the dog-tag, the Chief said he had dug inside the fuselage of the bomber where he had found it bearing the name Robert E Frank. Aircraft records list him as S/Sgt Gunner on the B-24 Serial Number 42-40475, the same B-24 as crewman Joseph Thompson, the first name given to the Moon's by Carolyn Fox. The Chief no longer had the dog-tag but had recorded the details in a book. Curiously, these details also showed that on the back of Frank's dog-tag was written the name "Mrs. Blanche Terry, Plain Field, NJ." Subsequent check revealed that Mrs. Blanche Terry was the airman's mother who had remarried and was since deceased."
In April, 2004 the US Military's JPAC, responsible for the return of located remains, visited the site in Papua New Guinea and confirmed it was the site of the "Swan" B24D-60-CO serial #42-40475. On board the plane at the time of the crash were the following Americans.
Once returned to Hawaii, attempts were made to identify the individual remains, whose bones will be buried per the instructions of the family. Unidentified remains will be buried together in Arlington.
In November, 2007 Carolyn and Sandy received the call they'd all worked for. Private Joseph Thompson's bones had been identified using Fox family DNA. He would be coming home. Unfortunately, changes in the Military's requirements for identification mean that her baptismal certificate, identifying Joseph as father, was no longer acceptable to the Military to prove her being next of kin. His DNA was too degraded to confirm his parentage of her. After all these years of effort, Sandy was not to be allowed to see her father’s internment, not to be recognized as daughter and not to be given access to his DNA to prove her connection to him. At this dark hour unexpected good fortune, or as Sandy’s call it, miracles, intervened again. First, one of Sandy’s American family members, who was to be offered passage to the internment at Arlington, asked the US Military to send Sandy, from Australia, in their stead. In August, 2008, Private Thompson returned. Thomas, the hard luck boy from the broken home, is back, with a daughter, cousins and nephews to welcome him. He finally got his break. And, Sandy, having found her Dad and a second family, got to meet them 65 years after the "Swans" last flight. All that was left for Sandy was establishing legally her connection to her father. Having spent a lifetime under a cloud without a father, and having worked decades to find her extended family, Sandy wanted proof. While she was convinced she must be related to her American family (in her words, “look at our big noses”) advances in genetic testing were needed to prove her case and neither the US nor Australian government would take on the effort. Friends located geneticists affiliated with the UN War Crimes tribunals that would take on the case. After eight of Sandy’s American blood relatives donated their blood, and after a year of laboratory work, in January, 2010 the results were in. The odds are 15,000 to one in favor. Sandy Smith is Joseph Thompson’s Daughter. And Joseph’s daughter brought Joseph home. In doing so giving Sandy a new family, and reminding all involved what love, family and friendship really mean.
Thank you: Terry Shaw, Merry Jo Johnson and the Moon family