More than a half-century after his father’s plane vanished over the jungles of Papua New Guinea,Lakewood resident Michael Kindig Osborn saw him laid to rest Tuesday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
The service brought closure to a mystery that has consumed Osborn since he was a child. Now 60,Osborn was only 3 years old when Maj. Earl Robert Kindig disappeared from a small observation plane in February 1944. He was directing artillery fire on Japanese troops.
The U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii identified Kindig last year through DNA matching after a Philadelphia contractor discovered the plane and remains in a riverbed about 18 miles southeast of Saidor,New Guinea.
“It's almost become a cliché now,the phrase ‘closing the circle,' but that's exactly what it amounts to,” Osborn said. “The entire experience has been surreal in the sense that there was my sense of reality that all this happened,but I would tell the story and wasn't entirely sure everybody believed it.”
Tuesday's ceremony was a tribute to a father Osborn came to know only through his possessions—a trunk of photographs and diaries,a home movie,and the Purple Heart and Legion of Merit accepted on Kindig's behalf.
Though memories are entirely inherited,Osborn effortlessly rattles off facts,dates and people that punctuated his father's life and death.
Kindig,a graduate of Iowa State University,was stationed in New Guinea,a crucial anchor at that point in the war. During the February 1944 Battle of Saidor,he went aloft to observe where artillery rounds were hitting the Japanese,when his radio failed. He reportedly resorted to throwing repositioning messages in bottles out the window and was last seen flying up a river valley.
Though searches during and after the war found no traces of Kindig or the plane's pilot,Francis Piotrowski,rumors in the year following his disappearance—that he had been captured by headhunters or escaped the wreckage and was recovering in a hospital—were disheartening for the family.
“The one that was most tantalizing was when his executive officer's wife called my mother and said ‘how thrilled you must be that Earl's coming home,'” he said.
Osborn recalls soon after a hazy memory of a Western Union telegraph that sent word of his father's casualty.
“My mother knew he'd perished,but his mother,on the other hand,went to her death convinced that he was still alive and wondering around the jungle,which is a special kind of torment,” he said.
Osborn's search for his father,which began about 25 years ago,led him to Fred Hagen,who had found parts of a light observation plane in 1998 near where Kindig disappeared while searching for wrecks in New Guinea.
In February 2000,an army reconnaissance team unearthed remains of two humans and a number of artifacts,including Kindig's rank insignia,Zippo lighters and bone fragments that included a nearly intact human tibula. The army's Central Identification Laboratory identified Kindig and the airplane's pilot by comparing DNA of the bone fragments with that of blood samples taken from his 92-year old cousin.
Osborn,who edits Colorado's AFL-CIO newspaper,attended the funeral with his sons. His mother died in 1987.
The funeral procession included a military band,a horse-drawn caisson,and a three-volley salute.
With his father's rank insignia pinned to his lapel,Osborn read a letter at the funeral that his father had written to him on his 1st birthday,filled with advice and optimism about his life ahead.
“What's most bittersweet are the conditions we're all operating under now—It's disappointing that the world he envisioned for his son and grandchildren has yet to be achieved,” Osborn said.