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Archive for Monday, September 3, 2001

Wife learns of WWII pilot’s fate

September 3, 2001

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— After more than half a century, a Salina woman finally learned the fate of her husband who was declared missing in action in World War II.

A messenger had come to Violet Mertz's door on March 20, 1944, with a three-line telegram notifying her that her husband had been missing in action since March 5. Two years later, the Army declared him dead.

"I used to tell my kids that in my lifetime, we would find out what became of him," Mertz said last week after a visit by a representative from the Army Personnel Command.

Mertz's husband, 2nd Lt. Mack Sparks, was the co-pilot of a B-24 that was on a reconnaissance mission when it crashed into the side of a mountain in New Guinea, the Army officer told her.

The crash killed everyone aboard.

In 1989, a curator at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua, New Guinea, discovered the plane. The New Guinea government notified the U.S. government of the crash site, said Shari Lawrence, deputy public affairs officer at U.S. Army Personnel Command in Alexandria, Va.

The Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii sent a team in 1990 to excavate the site, and remains were sent to a laboratory in Honolulu.

Mack Sparks' identification tags were recovered at the crash site, but conventional methods couldn't give a guaranteed identification of the remains.

Sparks' younger sister, Jerry Ann Kuehl, of Green Bay, Wis., supplied DNA to compare to her brother's, and a match was found.

Plans are for an October funeral in Arlington National Cemetery.

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