Cannibals ate my uncle, claims Biden

Biden touches the wall near his uncle's name, Ambrose J Finnegan Jr., who died in WWII
Joe Biden touches his uncle's name on the war memorial in Scranton, Pennsylvania - Alex Brandon/AP

Joe Biden believes that his uncle may have been eaten by cannibals after his plane crashed over Papua New Guinea during the Second World War.

The US president told the story of 2nd Lieut Ambrose J Finnegan on a visit to a war memorial in his childhood city of Scranton, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, claiming he was shot down in an area inhabited by cannibal tribes.

“He flew single-engine planes, reconnaissance flights over New Guinea,” said Mr Biden.

“He had volunteered because someone couldn’t make it. He got shot down in an area where there were a lot of cannibals in New Guinea at the time.

“They never recovered his body. But the government went back, when I went down there, and they checked and found some parts of the plane and the like.”

Mr Biden’s theory is, however, contradicted by official war records of Lt Finnegan’s death, which suggest that his aircraft, an A-20 Havoc, suffered engine failure over the Pacific in 1944 and that he did not survive the crash.

Mr Biden, 81, had earlier put his hand on the engraved name of Lt Finnegan, who he calls “Uncle Bosie”, at the missing-in-action memorial.

“My Uncle Bosie, he was a hell of an athlete, they tell me, when he was a kid,” said Mr Biden.

“He became an Army Air Corps before the Air Force came along. He flew those single engine planes as reconnaissance over war zones.”

“We have a tradition in my family my grandfather started,” Mr Biden added. “When you visit a gravesite of a family member - it’s going to sound strange to you - but you say three Hail Marys. And that’s what I was doing at the site.”

Ambrose Finnegan died flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1944
Ambrose Finnegan died flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1944

The president also criticised Donald Trump over his lack of military service.

According to official war records, though, Lt Finnegan was not flying the plane that disappeared, nor was it shot down.

Investigators also found no evidence that he survived the crash or that he encountered “cannibals” or any other inhabitants of Pacific islands.

A report of a missing aircraft was filed to the US war department on May 17 1944, according to the National Archives, which collates historical US government documents.

It registers three crew and one passenger, identified as Lt Finnegan, on board.

He was listed as a “courier” while the pilot was 1st Lt Harold R Prince, who was accompanied by a gunner and engineer.

Further reports submitted by pilots who went looking for the missing plane said that “no trace was found of Lieutenant Prince’s plane or the crew”.

A US air force A-20 Havoc, the type of aircraft flown by Lt Finnegan
A US air force A-20 Havoc, the type of aircraft flown by Lt Finnegan

A separate Pentagon investigation concluded that the plane suffered engine failure.

The report by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said: “For unknown reasons, this plane was forced to ditch in the ocean off the north coast of New Guinea. Both engines failed at low altitude, and the aircraft’s nose hit the water hard.”

Referring to Lt Finnegan, the report added: “He has not been associated with any remains recovered from the area after the war and is still unaccounted for.”

Mr Biden’s recall of facts has been repeatedly highlighted by critics during his presidency, notably when special counsel Robert Hur characterised him as an “elderly man with a poor memory” in a justice department report in February.