In February 1944, Heffernan was a member of the 490th Bomb Squadron, 341st Bomb Group, 10th Air Force. On Feb. 22, he was serving as the navigator of a B-25G Mitchell bomber while on a bombing mission from Kurmitola, India, to railroads south of Monywa, Burma. Before reaching the target, Heffernan's plane burst into flames and crashed near Letpadaung. Local villagers told investigators at the time that the Japanese confiscated all personal items from the crash and told them to bury the bodies.
Following the end of the war, the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) was tasked with investigating and recovering missing American personnel in the Pacific Theater. Despite several attempts, AGRS was unable to locate or identify Heffernan. He was declared non-recoverable on Feb. 8, 1948.
In August 2017, DPAA partner R.M. Asia Group conducted an investigation mission in Letpadaung, followed by a DPAA Investigation Team in March 2018. The teams found enough evidence of the crash for DPAA to send two recovery teams, the first from January to March 2019 and the second from January to March 2020. The recovery teams found possible human remains and material evidence at the site, which was accessioned into the DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for analysis.
To identify Heffernan’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and autosomal DNA (auSTR) analysis.
Heffernan’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in the Philippines, along with the others missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
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