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PLA sleuths shed light on US 'missing in action'
By Hu Yinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-27 07:56

Until recently, 72-year-old Xu Zhenliang had barely uttered a word about the crash of a US plane that came down when he was a teenager in his home village of Jiaoshuikang, in Guangdong province.

That all changed when archivists from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) arrived in Jiaoshuikang to ask villagers for help in locating the site of the crash that took the lives of 15 US military personnel on Nov 5, 1950.

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The search for the wreckage was a labor of love for PLA archivist Liu Yiquan, who realized the aircraft must have come down close to the village after working through tens of thousands of historic documents.

The efforts of local government, police, military and civil affairs officials to locate the remains of the 15 people were part of a much larger mission by the PLA to find missing US military personnel who disappeared in China between 1950 and 1958.

The project began in July 2006 when China and the US signed a historic document calling for cooperation between military archives.

Under the agreement, the US is obligated to offer lists of the names of missing military personnel while China has arranged for a team of elite archivists to investigate the disappearances.

To date, the PLA Archives Department has found more than 100 documents that offer possible clues to missing US military personnel.

The cooperation followed China's swift response to then-US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who, during a visit to Beijing in 2005, asked General Guo Boxiong, vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission, whether he could shed light on the disappearance of US citizen James B. Deane Jr.

Deane, a US Navy pilot, was shot down by the Chinese military in 1956 during a spying mission off the coast of Zhejiang province. The 24-year-old newlywed, reportedly Rumsfeld's closest friend at a navy flight training center in Pensacola, Fla, was declared dead by the US Navy the following year.

Senior PLA archivists took up the challenge and, during his reciprocal visit to the US in 2006, Guo presented their findings: a detailed combat report by the regiment that shot down Deane's plane on Aug 23, 1956. A total of four bodies were recovered.