The tiny bone fragments formally turned over to the U.S. Wednesday carry a world of significance and perhaps closure for perhaps a few American households who lost a loved one over the mountains of India in World War II.

During a solemn rite Wednesday, U.S. military members paid final respects to what they believe is a prospect the remains of crew members from a B-2 4 bomber and a military transport aircraft that crashed on render works from India to China over the Himalayan Mountains.

“Those guys whose remains are in those coffins would have wanted that, and would be proud and happy to be home, and their families too.”

– Defense Secretary Ash Carter

Eight people were killed in the B-2 4 collision, and a four-man Army Air Force crew was killed in a C-1 09 collision. It marks the first time the Defense Department’s POW/ MIA Accounting Agency is bringing home are still in missing military members from India.

“This is a sad duty, but it entails a great deal, ” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who watched the ceremony. “Those guys whose remains are in those coffins would have wanted that, and would be proud and happy to be home, and their families too.”

Speaking to reporters flying with him to the Philippines, Carter said it also sends a message to those currently serving in warzone because it shows them “what we would go through for somebody who perished serving their country today.”

Two bone fragments — small enough to fit inside a sandwich pouch — along with some other artifacts from the B-2 4 flight were found during a U.S. excavation in the rugged mountain.

Their discovery and return dedicates hope to households that the remains of the estimated 350 U.S. service members still classified as missing in India may someday find their way home.

According to Gary Stark, the India desk officer for the POW/ MIA Accounting Agency, the B-2 4 — known as Hot As Hell — went missing with its crew of eight in January 1944. The aircraft was one of many that operated renders from China to India, flying people and components backward and forward over what they “ve called the” Hump.

The second decide of remains was turned over to the POW/ MIA bureau by a third party and was from the same region. The Pentagon said the remains are “possibly” related to a C-1 09 that crashed on July 17, 1945, traveling from India to China.

After Wednesday’s ceremony at the airport in New Delhi, the remains, which were put in ceremonial boxes and then into flag-draped coffins, will be forwarded to a laboratory in Hawaii for DNA testing. Simply then will officers know if the fragments belong to one or two crew members.

The B-2 4 accident site is one of many in the mountains where U.S. aircraft was downed as they tried to negotiate the harsh and jagged terrain. Teams have tried to excavate sites before, but in 2008 -2 009 they discovered no remains. This time, experts aided by mountaineering adventurers identified four areas to search. Two were in terrain that was too dangerous for crews to work in because of possible landslides.

High on the steep mountains of Arunachal Predesh, along India’s northeast border, the recovery squad climbed more than 9,000 feet.

According to Marine Capt. Greg Lynch, the team hiked for three days to set up a base camp, then climbed to the crash site every day, carefully sifting through clay to find remains.

“It was very physically grueling to go to this particular area and to conduct this recovery, ” said Lynch, a team leader who was not on such projects. He said the team included 12 principally military members, along with another dozen or so contractors.

Along with the bone fragments, the team ascertained other items associated with the accident but no personal effects, such as dog tag or watches, that could identify the crew.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who has been traveling in India, watched as taps was played and the remains were placed in the coffins and loaded onto a C-1 7 aircraft for the flight home.

The Pentagon has rephrased its commitment to respect for families of the thousands of servicemen still unaccounted for from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Many of those households have, over the years, complained bitterly of postpone and even forget from the Pentagon bureaux charged with finding, retrieving and identifying remains from overseas wars.

Carter’s predecessor at the Pentagon, Chuck Hagel, ordered the MIA accounting bureaucracy to reorganize and consolidate as part of an effort to improve its performance, which also has come under criticism in Congress.

Under increased scrutiny, the POW/ MIA office has increased the number of remains that were identified last year, to virtually 100, and expects to surpass that number this year.

No more excavations in India are planned for the coming fiscal year that objective on Sept. 30, and officials said they didn’t know the schedule for next year.

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