DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --
On April 7, 1945, 21-year-old 1st Lt. Newell F. Mills was already a seasoned combat pilot with the 354th Fighter Squadron “Bulldogs” under the 355th Fighter Group. It was on that day, he and other members of the 355th FG were tasked with a “Ramrod” mission, to provide fighter escort for a formation of approximately 12 B-24 Liberator bombers on their way to destroy a munitions factory 15 miles southeast of Hamburg, Germany. These 12 B-24s represented only a small portion of the total 1,200 U.S. heavy and medium bombers flying that day. They were all heading to various targets deep within the heart of Germany.
Before even reaching the target area, the bombers that Mills and his fellow pilots were escorting suddenly encountered a large group of German fighter aircraft descending upon them, including several jet powered Messerschmitt Me-262s (nicknamed the “Schwalbe”), Germany’s most advanced fighter. Immediately, the 355th FG’s P-51 Mustangs broke away from the bombers and began engaging the enemy.
This came as a bit of a surprise for the 355th FG pilots, having this many enemy aircraft fielded against them at this point in the war since the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, seemed severely crippled by the vigorous allied bombing and strafing campaign that started in 1944 on their factories and planes on the ground. As Norman “Bud” Fortier, a pilot and Ace with the 354th Fighter Squadron during World War II noted in his book, An Ace of the Eighth: An American Pilot’s Air War in Europe (2003), “On April 7, the Gods of War reminded us that this war wasn’t over.”
What followed was a violent and intense aerial battle. It turned out the 355th FG pilots were not the only ones experiencing a staunch German air attack, over 250 enemy aircraft swarmed the entire 1,200 strong bomber fleet and their escorts that day. As the fight raged, the 355th FG managed to fend off attack after attack, downing five enemy aircraft in the process with three more shot down by the B-24 gunners. Eventually, the bombers escorted by the 355th FG made it to their target and dropped their payloads at the cost of three B-24s destroyed.
Upon completion of the bombing run, the fighters of the 355th FG broke escort over the coast of Denmark and headed back for England. It was after this turn, approximately 15 miles southeast of the German town of Bremen, that Mills and 1st Lt. Gil Plowman, Mills’ Wingman who was also on his first-ever combat mission, “Disappeared while penetrating cloud cover on the way home and were never heard from again,” according to Field Order 1914A. The two were the only pilots lost from the 355th FG that day deemed missing-in-action.
Although, the remains of Plowman would be later identified near the town of Bothmer, Germany in 1946; the whereabouts and fate of Mills remained a mystery.
For a time, from 1949-2010, it was believed from very circumstantial evidence that Mills’ remains were located within a gravesite named “Unknown X-5904” in the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium, and his status changed to “deceased.” It was only through investigation into a different missing pilot that the remains in grave “Unknown X-5904” were confirmed not to be those of Mills and he was listed as “unaccounted for.”
In 2012, a German research team was investigating a World War II plane crash site near Bothmer, Germany. During their investigation, eyewitnesses told the German researchers of an American pilot who had bailed out of his aircraft and descended into a nearby river. When a group of the townspeople arrived and pulled the pilot out of the water, he was already deceased from a bullet wound to the stomach. The German team, familiar with Plowman’s remains having been identified in the area just after the war and familiar with the missing Mills, showed a photo of Mills to the eyewitnesses. The eyewitnesses in turn believed that the man in the photo indeed bore a resemblance to the dead American pilot that they pulled from the river that day almost 67 years prior.
The eyewitness accounts and further investigation lead the German researchers to strongly believe an Ardennes American Cemetery grave named “Unknown X-632” was a strong candidate to be the final resting place for Mills, the American pilot pulled out of the river.
In late 2019, they contacted the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and informed them of what they learned. The DPAA immediately launched their own investigation from this new evidence to positively identify the remains of Mills.
By 2021, the DPAA had completed their investigation and successfully obtained permission to disinter the remains held within the grave “Unknown X-632” and ship them to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for intense laboratory analysis. Through forensic anthropological analysis, dental records and a multitude of DNA tests on March 7, 2022, the DPAA officially announced that this was indeed Mills.
After nearly 80 years, Mills’ whereabouts were no longer a mystery. Finally, this Wingman, son, brother and friend is able to rest in peace.
Mills is to be buried at a yet to be announced date with full military honors at Arlington Cemetery. Welcome home 1st Lt. Newell F. Mills, a Bulldog.
Combat Chronology: 1941-1945. Kit C. Carter and Robert Mueller (compilers). Center for Air Force History, Washington D.C. 1991.
An Ace of the Eighth: An American Fighter Pilots Air War in Europe. Norman “Bud” Fortier. The Random House Publishing Group, 2003.
Angels, Bulldogs, and Dragons: the 355th Fighter Group in World War II. Bill Marshall. Champlin Fighter Museum, Mesa AZ, 1984.
Fulfilling Our Nations Promise, Pilot Accounted For From World War II. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency News Release. Published 04 May 2022.
Personnel File: https://dpaa.secure.force.com/dpaaProfile?id=a0Jt0000000XeJvEAK
A portrait of U.S. Army Air Force 1st Lt. Newell F. Mills, Jr., in aviator gear. Mills was a seasoned combat pilot with the 354th Fighter Squadron "Bulldogs" under the 355th Fighter Group. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)