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WWII CO-PILOT FINALLY AT HOME ARMY BURIES MAN LOST 50-PLUS YEARS.

Byline: LISA FRIEDMAN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- After villagers in Papua New Guinea came across the wreckage and remains from a World War II crash four years ago, their delivery of a handful of dog tags to U.S. embassy officials sparked a full-scale archeological excavation and forensic investigation.

The efforts culminated Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery, where the nine crew members of that 1944 crash -- all finally identified -- received a full military burial.

Among them was 2nd Lt. Byron L. Stenen, who was born and raised in Northridge and joined the U.S. Army almost straight out of graduation from Canoga Park High School. He was 21 and the co-pilot of the B-24D Liberator when it took off from Nadzab, New Guinea, on Oct. 19, 1944 -- and he was never seen again.

``It was bad weather on a training mission, and all these wonderful young men had their lives cut short,'' said Diana Woodruff-Pak, Stenen's niece, who attended the burial. ``I just thought it was incredible that there was still a staff that was searching for all these missing men and women.''

With few stories of her uncle, Woodruff-Pak, who now lives in Pennsylvania, said she grew up knowing mostly the broad outlines of the young man who went off to war and never came home. The youngest of three children, Byron Stenen was handsome, charismatic and something of a ladies' man, doted on by his mother, his niece knew.

In photographs with his crew, she said, ``Byron is flashing his beautiful smile. He was just a charming man. Everyone loved him.''

Of her grandmother, who lived her entire life in Northridge, Woodruff-Pak said, ``I remember her so wanting to know what happened -- and actually hoping against hope that he was still alive.''

Norman Stenen, 88, who now lives in Brea and was unable to attend the funeral, recalled his younger brother as ``a fun-loving, hang-loose kind of kid'' who loved riding motorcycles and wanted to be a fighter pilot, but became a bomber pilot instead.

Assigned to the 306th Air Service Group, Stenen and others in the crew had recently started flying training missions when they set out that October day for the mountainous jungle of what is now Papua New Guinea. Military officials believe the crew ran into foul weather.

It wasn't until 2002 when villagers in the Morobe province discovered the wreckage and reported it to the U.S. embassy in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.

In addition to Stenen's remains, the Defense Department recovered those of 2nd Lt. Hugh L. Johnson Jr. of Montgomery, Ala.; 2nd Lt. John F. Green of Watertown, N.Y.; 2nd Lt. John M. Meisner of Pembroke, Mass.; Staff Sgt. Walter Knudsen of Sioux City, Iowa; Cpl. John A. DeCarlo of Newark, N.J.; Cpl. Robert E. Raney, of Monon, Ind.; Cpl. William G. Mohr of Mount Wolf, Pa.; and Cpl. Michael J. Pushkar of Mahanoy City, Pa.

Woodruff-Pak said she was touched by the pomp of the funeral, with horse-drawn caisson and marching soldiers, and the Army's insistence that it will search for its missing to the last one.

Her father, she said, will be receiving the flag that covered his brother's casket as well as a box of Byron Stenen's medals.

``After all these years, it was quite amazing,'' Norman Stenen said. ``The main thing they were able to bring back to me that really made me cry was the identification bracelet that my brother wore. That somehow was lying around there.''

lisa.friedman(at)langnews.com

(202) 662-8731

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) STENEN

(2) Missing in mountainous jungle of the Southwest Pacific since 1944, Byron Stenen is memorialized on a Canoga Park High School plaque listing graduates killed in military duty.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 28, 2006
Words:627
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