WW2 US airman who died when his aircraft crashed on a British farm is identified after 79 years
A second ‘lost’ World War Two airman who was killed when his aircraft crashed on a British farm has been found, it was revealed today – allowing him to finally be buried in his home town.
Sergeant John Holoka died alongside two American colleagues who remained in the stricken bomber which came down on land near Arundel, West Sussex, in June 1944.
The body of co-pilot Sgt John Crowther was recovered at the time but Sgt Holoka and pilot Lieutenant William Montgomery had been missing ever since.
Archaeologists carried out three excavations over a four year period at the wreck site and last week it was confirmed the remains of Lt Montgomery had been found and identified.
Now, the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) has announced that they have also discovered 25-year-old flight engineer Sgt Holoka’s remains.
Sergeant John Holoka died alongside two American colleagues who remained in the stricken bomber which came down on land near Arundel, West Sussex, in June 1944
Sergeant John Crowther, front right, and Lieutenant William Montgomery, beside him (second right)
Archaeologists carried out three excavations over a four year period at the wreck site
A spokesperson confirmed that anthropological and DNA testing on human remains recovered during the excavations proved they were those of Sgt Holoka.
He will be buried with full military honors in his hometown of Portage, Pennsylvania.
British historian Mark Khan, who was involved in the excavations, said: ‘We are gobsmacked and ecstatic.
‘We have done exactly what we set out to achieve which was to find William Montgomery and John Holoka who can now be buried in his home town which is great for his family.
‘It took a huge amount of work and so much effort but now we can say they are no longer missing.’
Battkle of Britain historian Andy Saunders found the wreck site in the 1970s.
But nothing was done about it until 11 years ago when Mr Saunders mentioned it to an officer with the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) at a conference, prompting them to do their own research.
Mr Saunders said: ‘I think that had John Holoka not been found it would have left the whole story hanging so this is an excellent and very satisfactory ending.’
British historian Mark Khan, who was part of the archaeological team (pictured during the excavation in 2019), said he was ‘very pleased’ that Lt Montgomery was ‘no longer missing’
Amateur historian Andy Saunders (pictured) looked into the fate of the bomber in the 1970s and pinpointed the most likely location was a farm in Arundel.
Lt Montgomery, aged 24, and Sgt Holoka were part of 844 Squadron of the United States Air Force stationed at RAF Halesworth, Suffolk, during the war.
The squadron took part in strategic bombing missions of Normandy before, during and after D-Day.
On June 22, 1944, the ill-fated B-24 Liberator bomber took part in a raid on an airfield near Versailles when it was peppered by flak.
It limped across the English Channel before it began losing height off the Sussex coast.
Seven of the 10-man crew successfully bailed out while Sgt Holoka, Lt Montgomery and Sgt Crowther remained on board to try and recover the situation.
The stricken plane crashed into a ball of flames minutes later.
Crew member Lt Demoyne Henderson wrote of the crash in a statement: ‘Just a few seconds after bombs were away we were hit hard by flak. We managed to stay in the vicinity of the formation until the French coast was reached.
‘I went to the flight deck and only one rudder and one elevator was in working order. We were in the rear of the ship until almost at the English coast when the order came to bail out.
A memorial tablet has been laid at the crash site on the farm in Arundel. It reads: ‘On the 22nd June 1944 USAF Liberator B24H Liberator crashed in front of this plaque. Three lives were lost’
A colt pistol was also found in the revovery. The excavations by British historians were carried out in 2017, 2019 and 2021.
A USA sweetheart badge was also found during the excavation.
‘Just after my chute opened I heard the whine of the plane going down.
‘The first four of us landed about four miles out in the Channel and were rescued quickly. The navigator landed on the beach and the other two landed a mile inland.
‘We were not allowed to visit the plane but it was a total loss.’
Nothing was ever found of Montgomery or Holoka apart from an identity bracelet belonging to the pilot.
Excavations by British historians were carried out in 2017, 2019 and 2021.
They discovered parts of the mangled wreckage of the B-24 Liberator and human remains, which were transported back to the US for DNA analysis.
A memorial tablet has been laid at the crash site. It reads: ‘On the 22nd June 1944 USAF Liberator B24H Liberator crashed in front of this plaque. Three lives were lost.
‘For our lost heroes, long gone but not forgotten. Your sacrifice ensured the freedom of the world.