HomeNewsWWII Pilot’s Brother Finally Finds Closure 77-Years After His Plane Was Shot Down

WWII Pilot’s Brother Finally Finds Closure 77-Years After His Plane Was Shot Down

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Jeff Greenough/Getty Images)

“Welcome home brother,” is all Robert Mitchell, 90, said as his brother was finally laid to rest after being missing in action for almost 8 decades after WWII.

On Tuesday, Lieutenant Henry Mitchell was brought home to his final resting place in Arkansas, where he was laid to rest in Fayetteville National Cemetery. He is survived by his younger brother, Robert Mitchell, who said, “It’s a dream come true.” He started looking for his brother’s remains in 1975; Henry’s P-38 Lightning was shot down over Austria in 1944 during World War II, and he was declared MIA until recently. “I never gave up,” said Robert.

In Arkansas, the Patriot Guard Riders escorted Henry to the cemetery. The Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, officially declared September 14 Lt. Henry Donald Mitchell Day.

The P-38 Lightning and WWII

Lt. Henry Mitchell flew a P-38 Lightning during the war, which was a completely innovative plane for its day. The P-38 fighter-bomber had speed on its side, as well as four 50-caliber machine guns and a 20-mm cannon. It could fly to 3,300 feet and reach 400 mph, making it the fastest fighter plane in the world at the time. This thing could sink ships. The P-38 actually boosted the morale of the American Army Air Force troops. It was instrumental in turning the tides of the campaign in the Pacific. It is on the level of the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang, but was used two years before them.

The P-38 was first used as tactical support in North Africa. It was forced to fly low to the ground, not its strong suit. Therefore the Army Air Forces didn’t employ them much in the African theater. However, the Air Forces definitely picked them up for the Pacific theater, as they could climb higher than the Japanese fighters. They were also used to escort other P-38 bombers, each carrying two 2,000 pound bombs. These were called “droop-snoots” because of the bombardier position that was installed in the nose of the plane.

Around 9,900 P-38s were made by Lockheed during WWII; they flew in more than 130,000 missions around the world. When aerial film needed to be taken over Europe, a P-38 was called in to do the job; 90 percent of the aerial shots of the war in Europe were take from P-38s. Colonel Ben Kelsey, according to a history by Lockheed Martin, said it best, remarking that the P-38 “would fly like hell, fight like a wasp upstairs, and land like a butterfly.”