The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Willard R. Best, 24, of Staunton, Illinois, killed during World War II, was accounted for Sept. 3, 2019.

(This identification was initially released on Sept. 6, 2019.)

In the summer of 1944, Best was a member of the 407th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 92d Bombardment Group (Heavy), 40th Combat Bombardment Wing, 1st Air Division, 8th Air Force. On Aug. 24, 1944, Best was the top turret gunner aboard a B-17G Flying Fortress aircraft, carrying nine crewmembers, which was struck by German anti-aircraft fire and crashed during a bombing raid over Merseburg, Germany. Four crewmembers survived and were captured by German forces, while five, including Best, were killed. His remains were reported to have been buried in the Leipzig-Lindenthal Cemetery.

After the war, the American Graves Registration Command recovered three sets of remains from the Lindenthal Cemetery. One set was identified, but the other two could not be, and were subsequently designated Unknown X-1047 and X-183. In 1947, it was determined that X-1047 contained the remains of two separate individuals. They were segregated and redesignated as X-1047A and X-1047B. The three sets were then declared unidentifiable and buried as unknown American service members in American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) cemeteries in Europe.

In 2017, while studying American losses and unidentified remains recovered from outside Leipzig, Germany, a DPAA historian determined that X-1047A, X-1047B and X-183 could likely be associated with crewmembers from Best’s B-17G Flying Fortress.

In April 2019, the Department of Defense and ABMC disinterred X-1047A, X-1047B and X-183 and accessioned the remains to the DPAA laboratory for identification.

To identify Best’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

DPAA is grateful to the American Battle Monuments Commission and to the U.S. Army Regional Mortuary-Europe/Africa for their partnership in this mission.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,650 service members still unaccounted for from World War II with approximately 30,000 assessed as possibly recoverable. Best’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Hombourg, Belgium, along with the others missing from WWII. Although interred as an Unknown, Best’s grave was meticulously cared for by ABMC for 70 years. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

For family information, contact the Army Service Casualty office at (800) 892-2490.

Best will be buried in his hometown in the spring of 2020.