Biden says military unable to recover uncle’s remains during WWII because ‘there used to be a lot of cannibals’ in New Guinea

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President Joe Biden on Wednesday suggested twice that the United States was unable to recover his uncle Ambrose Finnegan’s remains after Finnegan’s plane crashed near New Guinea during World War II, “because there used to be a lot of cannibals” in the region.

Biden’s accounting of his uncle’s death — and possible cannibalization — differs from the account published by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting agency, which says Finnegan’s plane, an A-20 Havoc headed to New Guinea on a courier flight, was “forced to ditch in the ocean” off the coast of the island “for unknown reasons.”

“And my uncle, they called him – Ambrose, they called him Bosie… and he became an Army Air Corps, before the Air Force came along, he flew those single engine planes as reconnaissance over war zones,” Biden said during remarks at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh. “And he got shot down in New Guinea, and they never found the body because there used to be a lot of cannibals – for real – in that part of the New Guinea.”

The president also told the story before departing Scranton, Pennsylvania, earlier in the day.

There was, in fact, documented cannibalism in the region in the mid-20th century.

But the DPAA entry for Finnegan says three men “failed to emerge from the sinking wreck and were lost in the crash,” and that an aerial search the following day “found no trace of the missing aircraft or the lost crew members.” An additional crew member survived the crash, per the report.

Biden’s claim – that the military was ultimately unable to recover Finnegan’s remains – appears to be true. He is memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. During his trip to Pennsylvania earlier Wednesday, Biden visited a veterans’ memorial in Scranton, where he paid his respects to his uncle, who is also memorialized at the site.

“President Biden is proud of his uncle’s service in uniform, who lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told CNN Wednesday. “The President highlighted his uncle’s story as he made the case for honoring our ‘sacred commitment…to equip those we send to war and take care of them and their families when they come home,’ and as he reiterated that the last thing American veterans are is ‘suckers’ or ‘losers.’”

The White House did not provide additional details around Biden’s claim that cannibals prevented the recovery of Finnegan’s remains.

Biden made the comments during portions of his remarks criticizing former President Donald Trump over a 2020 report that claimed he disparaged US service members killed in battle and chose to skip a ceremony honoring veterans. Trump has disputed the reporting, though former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly later corroborated the report to CNN’s Jake Tapper.

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