HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) – It’s been a mystery for over seven decades, and it’s finally coming to an end.
John Dean Armstrong was a navy pilot from Hutchinson, who was a part of a secret campaign commonly referred to as the American Volunteer Group or the Flying Tigers. The group was in charge of traveling to Myanmar to train Chinese pilots to defend themselves against the superior Japanese forces. The US was not involved in the war at the time, making the mission frowned upon, so it was kept secret.
While in a flight demonstration, Armstrong was killed. Two more pilots died shortly after Armstrong. They were all buried with a brief graveside service in the Burmese jungle before the cemetery was abandoned and later desecrated by Japanese.
“By accident, the American Grave Recognition unit found three graves and they were not marked but they disinterred, the three men were not identifiable,” Lynn Evans, Armstrong’s niece said.
Armstrong’s remains were sent to India for forensic examination, but he was unable to be identified. His remains were sent to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, commonly referred to as the Punchbowl.
His remains were buried there until just recently.
Stateside, Armstrong’s nieces he never met were working on a 12 year journey to find his remains and grant him a proper burial alongside his parents near Hutchinson. They suspected he was still over in Burma. After many hurdles, Evans and her cousin Karen Beauprie put their DNA on file with a POW/MIA group
“That was a a really big milestone for us, to know if his body, if his remains were found, then there was DNA that he could be identified,” Evans said.
The next step was obtaining the “X-files” from India of the three unidentified pilots. The nieces had to ascertain which remains belonged to Armstrong based on his projected dimensions from photographs and family memory.
“Once they did the disinterment, we knew that without a doubt, one of those X-files and we picked X file 633 as our uncle and it turned out he was. We made educated deductions about which one he was and we were right,” Evans said.
Thus began the task to get Armstrong’s remains back home. He was disinterred again and flown in from Honolulu to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Wichita.
“For us, I don’t think it’s going to be closure, I think what it is is the end result or positive outcome that we worked for for 12, 13 years now,” Evans said.
Evans said she’s relieved that he is not buried in a Burmese jungle with no identification.
“For us, it’s the end result with a positive outcome and we are all joyous over that. There’s no grief, I shouldn’t say grief or sadness, just a total wash of relief for him to be back in Kansas, and buried in the same cemetery with his parents and his grandparents,” Evans said.
Armstrong is located in a flag-draped casket at Elliott Mortuary in Hutchinson. His service is tomorrow, then family will be able to go to McConnell Air Force Base and meet the pilots that brought Armstrong home.