Flier's remains may be on way home

September 05, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

Mary Dunham Nichols knows that she will feel many emotions when her husband's remains finally are returned to U.S. soil.

For now, though, she is feeling good about the discovery of what may be the last piece of a puzzle that has been painstakingly assembled over the last two years. U.S. and Russian authorities announced in Moscow Friday that the grave of Navy Capt. John Robertson Dunham -- whose B-29 was shot down while on a spy mission over the Sea of Japan during the Korean War -- apparently had been found on Yuri Island, off Japan.

A joint U.S.-Russian team searched unsuccessfully for Captain Dunham's remains earlier this year. The team returned to the search area last month and found what appear to be Captain Dunham's remains in a wooden coffin.

Mrs. Nichols, a Rodgers Forge resident, learned of the discovery in a 2 a.m. call Friday from a Defense Department liaison in Moscow.

"My reaction was, 'This is wonderful.' It fulfills the expectations of the team and also my expectations," Mrs. Nichols, who remarried in 1965, said yesterday.

"It feels good to know that this is on the way," she said. "When we finally have a proper funeral and his remains are in the United States, then that will be the closure. . . . We'll all have many emotions."

Her second husband, Donald H. Nichols, a Navy veteran of World War II, is retired from Waverly Press.

Mrs. Nichols, 68, said she has learned few details of the recent discovery. Head wounds on the remains appear to match those noted on a burial certificate obtained from Soviet archives.

Captain Dunham's body was found by a Soviet patrol boat in October 1952 and buried a day or two later, Mrs. Nichols said. "It looks like they treated his body with respect," she said.

She said it could be several months before the remains are identified by military technicians and turned over to the family.

Family members are planning a memorial service at Christ Episcopal Church in Easton, Captain Dunham's hometown, with burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Last December, Mrs. Nichols got another pre-dawn call from Moscow, telling her that her first husband's 1950 Naval Academy class ring had been recovered.

Vasily Syko, a former Russian sailor who said he was among the first to reach the crash site, had given Captain Dunham's ring to former Ambassador Malcolm Toon, head of the joint U.S.-Russian commission investigating the fate of U.S. servicemen shot down or believed to have been brought to the former Soviet Union.

In October 1992, documents from the former Soviet Union were found confirming that Captain Dunham's body had been picked up after the crash on Oct. 7, 1952.

Soviet fighters shot down Captain Dunham's unarmed plane while it was on a photomapping mission over the Japanese Kuril Islands. Captain Dunham was the photo-navigator and one of eight crewmen on the plane.

The remains of the other crewmen have not been found.

The U.S. government protested the incident, but the Soviet government denied any responsibility. For decades, Mrs. Nichols and the families of the other seven crewmen lived with uncertainty about whether any of the men had survived as prisoners.

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