Explosives Expert Discusses Mission to Recover WWII Remains

2 months ago

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Matthew Sponagle, 30, is a member of a 25-person team from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, searching for the remains of 10 airmen from a B-24H Liberator bomber that crashed in a field in northern Germany in 1945.

Besides helping to identify personal effects and remains of the crew, Sponagle's other important job is explosive ordnance disposal technician for the team.

When the team first arrived on Aug. 1, Sponagle established liaison with the local police and the German explosive ordnance disposal technicians who would dispose of any bombs or ammunition found.

After graduating from boot camp in September 2011 at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, Sponagle spent eight months learning his craft at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

But going to school doesn't mean you learned everything there is to know, he said. "You learn something new at each site," he said. For instance, Sponagle had to research the World War II ordnance that the bomber carried to better mitigate any hazards in Germany.

He learned all about the bombs the aircraft was carrying — including information on the bomb fuses, small arms and ammunition, such as the 50-calibre machine gun.

Sponagle, a native of Reading, Pennsylvania, said this is his fourth recovery mission.

His first recovery mission was on a jungle mountain in Panama, where he helped search for two naval aviators whose plane crashed during a training mission.

The team found some of the airmen's personal effects and parts of the aircraft; however, they found no remains, so that was pretty frustrating, he said.

Sponagle's next recovery mission was searching for missing airmen who crashed in Thailand in World War II.

Sponagle said his third recovery mission was special because they were searching for remains of Marines who fought on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands during World War II.

As for future plans, Sponagle said he plans to stay in the Marine Corps and then work overseas on humanitarian assignments with a nongovernmental organization.

Sponagle said he volunteered for the recovery missions because he wanted to give back to the families whose loved ones paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The agency, which is part of the Defense Department, searches in 45 countries for missing service members from World War II and later conflicts, including the Korean War, Vietnam War and Desert Storm. Some 81,000 are still missing.

Once remains are recovered and the agency's laboratory determines the person's identity through DNA analysis and other means, the service member's family is notified and arrangements are made for a military funeral.

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