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Discovery’s ‘Expedition Unknown’ seeks to recover 200 lost American heroes

In Discovery Channel's new season of Expedition Unknown, host Josh Gates works with Project Recover to return heroes lost at sea in WWII, back home.
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A group photo of the Project Recover team
Partners Project Recover and Legion Undersea Services unite for a whole team photo during the DPAA / Project Recover MIA Recovery operations. Harry Parker Photography

Now in its 12th season, Expedition Unknown has been a popular show on the Discovery Channel hosted by historian Josh Gates. An exciting watch is the season premiere episode, “Missing Heroes of World War II,” which aired on Wednesday, November 15 at 9 PM ET/PT on Discovery Channel.

Photo courtesy of the Discovery Channel.

Gates investigates famous historic sites, mysteries and legends across the globe. He even hosted a series about Back to the Future and DeLoreans with Christopher Lloyd to help support the Michael J. Fox Foundation. He has a strong patriotic sense as well, which leads into the season premiere episode that covers the work of Project Recover. The episode deals with the recovery of World War II aircraft crew that were downed during Operation Hailstone, which was the US attack on a large Japanese naval base, Truk Lagoon, during the war. Truk Lagoon was the equivalent of the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor and is part of Chuuk in Micronesia.

The premiere is in two parts, one this Wednesday and one a week. Gates explores Micronesia to investigate the aftermath of Operation Hailstone. Alongside Project Recover, Gates hopes to uncover 40 downed planes and 200 lost American heroes to bring closure to their relatives, as well as shed light on what happened during the attack—which ultimately leads them toward stunning and historic discoveries. The mission of Project Recover is a collaborative effort to enlist 21st-century science and technology in a quest to find and repatriate Americans Missing In Action (MIA) since World War II.

Legion Undersea Services diver on a Project Recover underwater recovery mission searching for the remains of a lost service member. Photo by Christopher Perez and courtesy of Project Recover.

The episode shows many key insights into how Project Recover operates and brings US troops back home for a proper burial and closure for their family. The cinematography is excellent and attention-grabbing throughout the episode, especially for the underwater sequences. You will get to see the underwater technology used by Project Recover to map the ocean floor and look for anomalies, which sometimes lead to an aircraft discovery. The team also makes connections with natives of the Chuuk who were eyewitnesses to the atrocities of the Japanese military during World War II. Yes – eyewitnesses are still alive from the 1940s and remember what the Japanese did during their time in Chuuk.

An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) over the crash site of a Marine Corsair in the South Pacific. AUVs are used extensively to assist in locating underwater crash sites. Photo by Eric Terrill and courtesy of Project Recover.

Gates dives with the team throughout the episode, providing us with an up close and personal underwater experience. Many sites viewed by Gates and the team have been lying on the ocean floor for nearly 80 years.

Some still have their equipment, live ordnance (like torpedos) and/or cargo intact. Check out the season premiere teaser below for more enticing footage, stories and exploration by Gates and the Project Recover team.

Expedition Unknown airs on Wednesdays at 9PM ET/PT on on Discovery Channel.