MOULTRIE — A Moultrie native who was lost at sea during World War II will be laid to rest almost 62 years to the day of his fateful mission.

Staff Sgt. Richard Fowler King, 26, was a radio operator in the 408th Bomb Squadron, 22nd Group of the U.S. Air Force. On April 16, 1944, he was a radio operator on a B24-J Liberator stationed in Nadzab, New Guinea, that completed a successful mission to bomb Hollandia, now Jayapura, in Indonesia.

The B24-J Liberator had completed the mission but ran into a tropical storm off the coast of New Guinea. The plane never returned to Nadzab following the mission and was listed as “Missing In Action” by the Air Force. That status was changed to “Presumed Dead” in 1946 after an Air Force Review Board concluded that it was likely that the Aircraft had been lost over water and that the remains of all 11 crewmen were unrecoverable.

Inez Jenkins, who was married to King at the time of his disappearance, said he was a very fine young man, and she had known him since they were both young. They became good friends through grade school and graduated from Moultrie High School together when they were 18 and were married at 20 years old.

“He was a good friend and a good school pal,” Jenkins, who still resides in Moultrie, said. “He was all together an all-around, upright person. He was truly a Christian and an all-around good person, and my high school years were enhanced by his friendship.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii happened shortly after they were married, and Jenkins said King was drafted and chosen to be a part of the bombing crew in training. They were married for about two-and-a-half years before King was sent overseas to fight in the Pacific Theater during World War II and was stationed in New Guinea.

It took about two weeks for her to be notified of King’s bomber being lost following their mission to Hollandia, Jenkins said. During that period, she continued to receive letters from King, including one sent the day before the fateful mission telling her about it in code between the two, meaning it was a special mission for him.

Jenkins said two lieutenants came to her office and asked to speak with her about King, and she knew something was wrong. After that initial news, she would receive updates by mail, in phone or in person from the Air Force about the status of King and attempts to locate him and the downed plane, but it was not located for over 50 years.

In 2001, however, a hunter reported finding a U.S. aircraft in a forest near Saider, New Guinea. After almost two years of searching the area and obtaining DNA samples from surviving family members, all 11 crew members, including King, were positively identified.

Jenkins said she was notified in 2001 that the plane had been found and identified and that all the crew members, including King, had lost their lives. In the crash, the plane had been partially torn, and remains were found inside and outside of the plane.

King was identified using a DNA sample from his sister, Ellen Raiford of Jacksonville, Fla., his only living relative after being found, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said various personal items were found by the research crew, including rings, dog tags and fragments from shoes, gloves and leather jackets. One of those items found was Jenkins’ high school class ring, which she ordered in King’s size and exchanged it with his class ring, which had been ordered in her size, a sign of their friendship throughout grade school.

“Ours was a friendship that grew into love and marriage,” Jenkins said.

The Air Force report on their findings was released to each surviving family member, and Jenkins said an Air Force representative personally went through the report with them. Paul Bethke, the head of the Air Force Search Committee, spent a November afternoon with Jenkins and Raiford explaining everything to them.

The news that King’s bomber had been found in 2001 brought mixed emotions, Jenkins said.

“It was something we have wanted to know definitively,” Jenkins said. “We did not know for sure until 2001.”

All of those personal items that were not positively identified and all unidentified remains from the crash site will be placed into one casket and will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Friday, April 21, Jenkins said. All 11 names of the B24-J crew, including King, will be placed on the grave’s tombstone with a description of the plane and mission.

Jenkins said King’s burial will be held with full military rites on Saturday, April 15. First Sgt. Gary Stone from Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., will be in charge of the strictly military service, and the service will be fitting for King.

“I wanted the service done this way because these men, including my husband, deserve this,” Jenkins said.

Details of the services had not been completed as of press time.

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