Luther faculty Dan Davis to embark on a mission to Chuuk Lagoon in the western Pacific

July 11, 2019

Dan Davis, Luther College assistant professor of classics, is about to embark on an unforgettable mission. He is traveling to Chuuk Lagoon in the western Pacific in an effort to recover the remains of missing American WWII air crews.

“As a former member and diver in the military, I’ve always been interested in military history, especially WWII. When this opportunity came along I couldn’t say no,” said Davis.

Davis is no stranger to underwater archaeology. He has been excavating ancient harbors and shipwrecks in the Mediterranean each summer for nearly three decades. Now, having recently taken a training course with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, he is one of only a handful of forensic scientific recovery experts in the world. For this expedition he is working with the non-profit organization, Project Recover – Searching and Finding MIAs.

He and a team are heading to Chuuk Lagoon on Aug. 2 to dive on some of the most haunted waters in the Pacific. They will be looking for the remains of American airmen lying within downed aircrafts.

“My job first is to identify the aircraft as American, then to search for and recover evidence of human remains,” said Davis.

Given the location’s history, Davis is very hopeful they will be successful in their mission.

During WWII, Chuuk Lagoon was considered one of Japan’s most powerful naval bases. Stationed there were hundreds of planes, battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, tankers, cargo ships and submarines, most of which are now at the bottom of the ocean after the United States carried out Operation Hailstone.

In Feb. 1944, the U.S. launched the air and ground attack that devastated the Japanese fleet. Over the course of two days, American planes sank 50 Japanese ships, downed 250 Japanese planes and claimed the lives of 4,500 Japanese soldiers. There were American casualties as well, many of whom may be found in the estimated 33 aircrafts that never returned.

“I am most looking forward to helping find some of these missing planes and hopefully they have human remains so we can bring them home,” said Davis.

The location serves as a popular destination for recreational divers, but for Davis it’s about much more than adventure. It’s paying tribute to those who served our country, “The mission is amazing and I think it’s something every American should be proud of,” he said.

If remains are found, they are turned over to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in hopes of identifying who they belong to. Remains are then brought back to the U.S. and traditionally a ceremony is held for the fallen service member.

Davis expects to wrap up the journey at the end of August.