The University of New Orleans will collaborate with the University of Innsbruck in Austria this summer to lead a joint effort to excavate the site of a World War II aircraft crash, in the hopes that the excavation will help the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to identify and return the remains of an airman missing since the war. The effort includes archaeologists and forensic specialists from the U.S. and Austria, graduate and undergraduate students, historians and museum professionals, as well as support and expertise from The National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
University of New Orleans anthropology professor D. Ryan Gray will lead the field team scheduled to begin excavations in July as part of a field school in archaeology. It is being coordinated with logistical and administrative support from the UNO Division of International Education and held in cooperation with its 42-year-old flagship program, the University of New Orleans-Innsbruck International Summer School.
The site to be investigated is located in the southern Austrian state of Carinthia, which may be the location of the crash of a P-51D “Mustang” from the 332nd Fighter Group, associated with the famed “Tuskegee Airmen.”
Attempts to locate the crash site after World War II were unsuccessful but new information supplied to the DPAA by Austrian informants led to this effort. The field investigations—combining traditional archaeological methods with state-of-the-art investigative techniques—will allow researchers to determine with certainty if it is the crash site.
The program was developed as a public-private partnership with DPAA, to further the mission to locate, recover, identify and return American personnel still unaccounted for from previous wars and conflicts. The UNO Department of Anthropology and Sociology has developed an active archaeology program in New Orleans, with an emphasis on urban historical archaeology. This partnership represents a new direction for the program, adding an international component and specialties in personnel recovery and aviation archaeology.
While the focus of the field school is undergraduate experience in archaeology, it also provides a unique opportunity for students in the Master of Arts program in history, which has a track focusing on military history, and for students enrolled in the Master of Science in urban studies program, who can pursue specializations in historic preservation, cultural resource management, urban anthropology and urban planning.
The National WWII Museum is also playing a key role in the program. Many of the students involved have been recipients of Mueller Scholarships—named for the president and CEO of the Museum, Gordon “Nick” Mueller—to help defray travel costs. In addition, the Museum’s senior curator, Tom Czekanski, will accompany the team to Innsbruck, to lend technical advice and support on the aircraft.
All excavations are taking place with the full cooperation of the Austrian authorities, facilitated by UNO’s colleagues at the University of Innsbruck and at the Austrian Marshall Plan Center for European Studies at UNO.
Additional student financial aid for the project is being provided by the Jean Brainard Boebel Chair in Historic Preservation in the UNO Department of Planning and Urban Studies, the Carl Muckley endowment in the UNO Department of History, the Division of International Education, the UNO Student Government Association and the UNO College of Liberal Arts, Education, and Human Development.