Home » Family of WWII sergeant who on board doomed dive-bomber discovered in Papua New Guinea jungle share their sweet sorrow as wreck is found with only one set of remains

Family of WWII sergeant who on board doomed dive-bomber discovered in Papua New Guinea jungle share their sweet sorrow as wreck is found with only one set of remains

by Marko Florentino
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For 80 years, John Sciara has been trying to uncover the truth about what happened to his older brother, a US Marine who went missing in action in the Pacific during World War Two.

On January 14, 1944, Sgt. Charlie Sciara, a gunner on an SBD Dauntless divebomber, was shot down over Papua New Guinea during an attack run on the Imperial Japanese base at Rabaul Harbor.

Initially, Charlie’s family believed he’d been killed in the crash. After the war, they learned he’d likely survived, only to die weeks later in a Japanese POW camp.

There were even conflicting accounts of how the plane went down: was it hit by anti-aircraft guns or an enemy fighter, and did it go down over land or sea?

‘There’s been so many stories,’ said John, now 80 and a retired New York City transit cop living in Florida. ‘It’s all hearsay.’

Last week, DailyMail.com was the first to report a major development in the decades-old mystery, after a team of local searchers located wreckage of a Dauntless deep in the jungle of New Ireland, an island that is part of Papua New Guinea.

Sgt. Charlie J. Sciara went missing in action in WWII. His brother John remembers him with this display in his home, with mementos and his medals including a posthumous Purple Heart

Sgt. Charlie J. Sciara went missing in action in WWII. His brother John remembers him with this display in his home, with mementos and his medals including a posthumous Purple Heart

A US Marines plane that went down during World War Two has been discovered in the South Pacific, 80 years after it went missing in action

A US Marines plane that went down during World War Two has been discovered in the South Pacific, 80 years after it went missing in action

The serial number on the wreck matches the plane piloted by Lt. Billy Ray Ramsey, on which Charlie served as the rear gunner, that was shot down during the 1944 bombing run.

US Department of Defense officials told DailyMail.com that they are prepping a team of investigators to send to the site, which is remote and difficult to access.

But preliminary information from the local searchers indicates that they discovered only a single set of human bones near the two-man aircraft. The remains, including a skull, were near the cockpit, suggesting they are those of the pilot Ramsey.

Any official identification will have to be confirmed by forensic tests carried out by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is charged with recovering missing American military personnel.

For now, though, the early report from the ground appears to support the longstanding theory that Ramsey died in the crash, while Charlie was taken prisoner and died in a POW camp.

In a phone interview with DailyMail.com, John said that he was grateful for any new information about his brother, even in the regrettable case that his remains are not identified at the crash site.

‘It means a lot,’ he said of the discovery of the wreckage. ‘It means a lot, and I’ll be glad when they get Ramsey home, at least.’ 

‘I’m going to be very happy for Ramsey, because that’s who it’s going to probably be. Charlie, we don’t know where he is,’ he said.

The tragic final mission of Lt. Ramsey and Sgt. Sciara

Brooklyn native Charles J. Sciara is seen prior to his enlistment in the Marines at age 19

Brooklyn native Charles J. Sciara is seen prior to his enlistment in the Marines at age 19

Brooklyn native Charles J. Sciara was just 19, and a student of aeronautic engineering at New York University, when he enlisted in the Marines in 1942.

‘When he went into service, my mother had to sign for him, and my father got very upset,’ recalled John, who was just an infant at the time. 

After basic training, Sgt. Sciara was assigned to Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 236, also known as the ‘Black Panthers’.

He served as a rear gunner on a Dauntless piloted by Lt. Ramsey, a native of Eastland, Texas.

The Dauntless was a versatile naval scout plane and divebomber that was manufactured by Douglas Aircraft from 1940 through 1944, which flew from both carriers and airstrips. 

By January 1944, two years after the Imperial Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the US was in the midst of a grueling campaign to neutralize Rabaul Harbor, the Empire’s fortress in the Southwest Pacific.

In their base at Rabaul, the Empire had more than 100,000 troops entrenched in a deep tunnel network extending from the heavily-defended harbor. 

In bloody battles, US Marines had captured Guadalcanal and the remaining Solomon Islands, and were using them to stage near-daily attacks on Rabaul as part of Operation Cartwheel.

Rather than attempt to capture the base, the plan called for encircling Rabaul to choke off resupply, and pounding it with bombing attacks launched from Allied-controlled airfields on nearby islands.

On January 14, 1944, the Black Panthers took off from Munda Airfield on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands on one such attack run.

A draft registration card shows Charlie was a student at NYU and worked at Duff Stores Inc. in Brooklyn, before he volunteered to enlist in the Marines in 1942

A draft registration card shows Charlie was a student at NYU and worked at Duff Stores Inc. in Brooklyn, before he volunteered to enlist in the Marines in 1942

Lt. Billy Ray Ramsey

Sgt. Charlie J. Sciara

Pilot Lt. Billy Ray Ramsey (left) and gunner Sgt. Charlie J. Sciara (right) were aboard the Dauntless that crashed in 1944. Ramsey was believed killed in the crash while reports suggest Sciara was captured alive and died in a POW camp

A US Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber flies over the island of Saipan on June 15, 1944. The positions of the pilot and the rear gunner can be seen on the two-man plane

A US Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber flies over the island of Saipan on June 15, 1944. The positions of the pilot and the rear gunner can be seen on the two-man plane

A Japanese vessel takes a hit amidships in Rabaul harbor, New Britain, during an air raid of the US Army 5th Air Force on the Japanese-held air and naval base on November 2, 1943

A Japanese vessel takes a hit amidships in Rabaul harbor, New Britain, during an air raid of the US Army 5th Air Force on the Japanese-held air and naval base on November 2, 1943

On January 14, 1944, the light bomber took off from Munda Airfield on New Georgia with Ramsey at the controls and Sciara manning the rear gunner position

On January 14, 1944, the light bomber took off from Munda Airfield on New Georgia with Ramsey at the controls and Sciara manning the rear gunner position

The attack force that day included 36 Dauntless planes and 18 TBF Avengers escorted by 73 fighters. 

Lt. Ramsey was at the controls of one of the Dauntless divebombers, with Sgt. Sciara manning the rear gunner position.

War records indicate the mission encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire and was intercepted by multiple waves of enemy fighters.

‘Lt. Billy R. Ramsey of this squadron had his tail shot off by anti-aircraft fire while the flight was approaching the target area,’ according to the squadron’s war diary.

When last seen the plane was in a ‘flat spin,’ according to the diary.

However, John told DailyMail.com that a fellow Marine present on the mission told his family that he’d seen Ramsey’s plane take fire from an enemy fighter.

The witness said he saw Lt. Ramsey slumped over the controls as the plane went down, and that Sgt. Sciara had his arms extended out of the plane, almost as if he were trying to fly.

The plane was last seen over St. George’s channel, and for years the Sciara family believed it had crashed in the water. 

Initially, both Lt. Ramsey and Sgt. Sciara were presumed dead in the crash, but after the war ended, information came to light indicating that Sgt. Sciara survived and was captured by Japanese forces.

The former Japanese naval commander at Rabaul, which only capitulated after Japan’s surrender to the Allies, provided Sgt. Sciara’s name as a possible prisoner held at one of the POW camps near Rabaul.

The information claimed that Sgt. Sciara died of ‘malaria and beri-beri’ on February 24, 1944, just 40 days after his plane was shot down.

Japan claimed that official POW records from Rabaul had been destroyed in Allied bombing. No remains were ever recovered that could be positively identified as matching Sgt. Sciara.

‘There’s a good chance they executed him, because that’s what they did to prisoners,’ John bluntly told DailyMail.com. 

'Lt. Billy R. Ramsey of this squadron had his tail shot off by anti-aircraft fire while the flight was approaching the target area,' according to the squadron's war diary

‘Lt. Billy R. Ramsey of this squadron had his tail shot off by anti-aircraft fire while the flight was approaching the target area,’ according to the squadron’s war diary

By 1948, attempts to match unidentified remains with Ramsey and Sciara had failed, and information emerged that Sciara was taken prisoner after the crash

By 1948, attempts to match unidentified remains with Ramsey and Sciara had failed, and information emerged that Sciara was taken prisoner after the crash 

In January, a local team found wreckage (above) of a Dauntless in Papua New Guinea. Serial numbers matched the plane flown by Ramsey

In January, a local team found wreckage (above) of a Dauntless in Papua New Guinea. Serial numbers matched the plane flown by Ramsey

John was only 10 months old when his brother died at age 20. The two brothers never met, though Charlie learned of his birth from his mother’s letters.

Ramsey was posthumously promoted to captain, and both he and Sciara were awarded the Purple Heart. 

Both Marines are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. Sciara also has a memorial marker at Arlington National Cemetery, in section H.

Jungle find offers new clues in the mystery

In January, the twisted wreckage of a Douglas SBD Dauntless was found in the jungle of Papua New Guinea by locals who had heard tales of a nearby crash for generations.

Photos of the plane’s serial number (35971) match the Dauntless that went down with Lt. Ramsey and Sgt. Sciara aboard.

‘The story was told by some of our grandparents and passed on to us that there was a plane crash on the mountain part of the jungle, but they did not know where exactly it crashed,’ said local Kilala Kindau, who led the team that made the find.

Kindau said his team conducted a search through the jungle in December into January before locating the wreckage.

Kindau said his team found a serial number on the wreckage and sent it to the US embassy, which confirmed the plane was American.

‘The plane was crashed and broke into three pieces, leaving the pilot trapped inside and unable to escape,’ he said.

Kindau said his team found a serial number on the wreckage and sent it to the US embassy, which confirmed the plane was American

Kindau said his team found a serial number on the wreckage and sent it to the US embassy, which confirmed the plane was American

Parts of the plane are seen after they were found across the jungle floor in Papua New Guinea

Parts of the plane are seen after they were found across the jungle floor in Papua New Guinea

Photos of the wrecked plane's serial number 35971 match that of a Dauntless that went down on January 14, 1944 carrying Ramsey and Sciara

Photos of the wrecked plane’s serial number 35971 match that of a Dauntless that went down on January 14, 1944 carrying Ramsey and Sciara

Pictures from the crash site on the island of New Ireland show the engine, propeller and wreckage from the downed plane littered across the jungle floor. 

The constructor’s number on the wreck – 4610 – also matches up to information on Ramsey’s Dauntless available online.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, part of the US Department of Defense, is charged with recovering American military personnel who are prisoners of war or missing in action.

A spokesperson told DailyMail.com: ‘DPAA has received multiple reports that wreckage potentially associated with missing personnel was recently discovered on New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.

‘We are working to get a team of investigators to the site as soon as we can.

‘As the agency responsible for recovering the remains of Americans missing from past conflicts, DPAA is committed to pursuing this lead.’



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