Rhodes to Honor Alumnus and WWII Veteran Declared Missing in Action for Decades

face of WWI pilot

Rhodes will honor Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Martin F. O’Callaghan, Jr., a member of the Class of 1944, who was killed during World War II. Listed as missing in action for more than seven decades, O’Callaghan’s remains were finally identified this year and are being returned to his family for a service and burial with full military honors on Nov. 5. The service will take place at 10 a.m. at the West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery Rotunda, 4000 Forest Hill Irene Rd., Memphis, TN.  

At the service, members of the ROTC, led by Rhodes Military Club President Nathan Musso ’20, will present a Rhodes College flag to the family, and Rhodes Military Liaison Mike Clary will present a commemorative plaque from the college.

“Second Lieutenant Martin O’Callaghan, like many other young men in the 1940s, had to forego his education at Southwestern to serve his country. It is truly an honor to represent Rhodes as we pay tribute to Mr. O’Callaghan’s service,” says Clary.

O’Callaghan graduated from Memphis’ Christian Brothers High School and was a student at Rhodes, then Southwestern, from 1940 to 1942 before enlisting and shipping out to Europe. He served as a P-38 Lightning pilot with the 96th Fighter Squadron, 82nd Fighter Group during WWII. On Feb. 14, 1945, in what was then Yugoslavia, his aircraft crashed after being struck by anti-aircraft fire. No immediate search for his remains could be conducted at the time because Yugoslavia was an occupied territory.

A news release by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) in Washington, DC, reports that in July 1947 a team from the American Graves Registration Service office in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, traveled to the village of Cirkovce to investigate a report that a U.S. service member had been buried there during the war. According to locals, the pilot was killed in the crash, and his remains were buried in the cemetery at Cirkovce. The remains were designated Unknown X-36, and interred in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Belgrade. After identification was unsuccessful in1949, Unknown X-36 was then reinterred at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy.

It wasn’t until May 2016 that an investigation was initiated that linked O’Callaghan’s remains to X-36. DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis, as well as anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence, to eventually identify him. O’Callaghan was officially accounted for on April 24, 2018.

More than 72,000 U.S. personnel remain unaccounted for from WWII. Comparison of DNA from recovered remains against DNA from some (but not all) blood relatives can assist in making a positive ID for unidentified remains that have already been recovered, or which may be recovered in the future. Members of O’Callaghan’s family went through the DNA identification process.

According to a DPPA news release, O’Callaghan’s name had been recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Impruneta, Italy. In the Rhodes College Mallory Gymnasium, his name also is included on a plaque bearing the names of alumni who gave their lives for their country while serving in WWII. 

Other commemorations in the city also are being planned in honor of O’Callaghan.