Family awaits ID of missing Iowa WWII Navy aviator

Posted by Pat Kinney on Monday, December 12, 2022

CEDAR FALLS -- Family members of Iowan Alden Pearl Anders (pictured below) are still waiting for him to come home - 77 years after he and his crewmates were shot down off Indonesia, in the Pacific theater of World War II. 

Among those waiting are a niece, Sherri Peterson of Cedar Falls. 

But the wait is over for her father, Alden's brother, Merwin Anders. 

Merwin recently passed away at age 96. He had recently resided at Bridges Senior Living in Waterloo, adjacent to the Grout Museum District.

Peterson and Anders were frequent visitors to the Grout Museum and the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, until Merwin's health deteriorated about a year ago. He was unable to see the Grout's recent exhibit on the conflict in which his brother served "Over Land and Sea: Iowans in the Pacific in World War II." The exhibit is still open now through the end of December. 

But Peterson said her father loved history, particularly World War II history, because he was very close to his brother. 

Merwin's passing came as prospects for a positive identification and return of his brother's remains were possibly as close as they've ever been. 

And Peterson and a cousin-in-law, former Sioux City resident Pete Hittle, are determined to see the quest through to a positive conclusion, after 30 years of research. 

Alden Pearl Anders grew up near the now-unincorporated northwest Iowa community of Moneta, west of Spencer in O'Brien County. He was an aerial radioman third class aboard the "Rugged Beloved" - a Navy PB4y1 Liberator bomber based in Puerta Princessa, Palaway Island, Philippines.
On June 16, 1945 - about two months before the Japanese surrender that ended World War II -- the plane went on a mission over the Makassar Straits what was then the enemy-occupied Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. 

A Navy PB4y1 Liberator bomber, similar to the "Rugged Beloved," in flight in 1945

The "Rugged Beloved crew

The plane strafed and bombed Japanese targets in the Bay of Makassar before being hit by antiaircraft fire, crashing into the bay. 

One crew member survived the crash but was later believed to have been executed by the Japanese. The other 10 crew members, including Alden Pearl Anders, were listed as missing in action and presumed dead. 

Bodies eventually washed ashore. After the war, several graves which family members now believe contained the remains of the downed Navy airmen were found near a church in Makassar City. They were moved to an American military cemetery in Barackpol, India. 

In 1947, the caskets were exhumed from there and taken to the National Cemetery of the Pacific at the Punchbowl crater in Hawaii. There were six caskets, two of which contained multiple sets of remains. They were unable to be identified at that time and were buried as unknown. 

Now, the remains of more and more military personnel. missing or unidentified for decades, are being identified with modern DNA technology by the U.S. Department of Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency. Families of eight of the "Rugged Beloved" crew members, including relatives of Alden Pearl Anders, have sent DNA samples to the DPAA. 

The priority now, says Pete Hittle, is to expedite the DPAA's exhumation and identification of the possible "Rugged Beloved" crew members' remains, including those of Alden Pearl Anders. 

"Given the circumstances and time period, I do believe the six caskets are our crew members," Hittle said.

To that end, Hittle, now a resident of Louisiana, has written U.S. Sen. John Kennedy of that state seeking his assistance. 

Hittle and Peterson are hoping that Uncle Alden Pearl Anders can finally come home and be laid to rest. Peterson said she especially wants it as a memorial to her father.

Hittle has started a Facebook page memorializing the crew: https://www.facebook.com/RuggedBeloved

According to the DPAA and military records, "Rugged Beloved" crew members are: Alden Pearl Anders, Louis Tulane Bass, William Lyon Dernberger, Robert Harold Graham, Ray Philip Kivitt, Roger Warren Mitchell, Henry Verlin Philpott, George William Pringle, Joseph Regiac, Philip Carlton Stretcher and William Alfred Whitener.
More information about the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency may be obtained at https://www.dpaa.mil/

About The Author

Pat is the Oral Historian for the Grout Museum District.