Funeral Highlights Search For Missing Servicemembers
(November 22, 2009)
|WASHINGTON (Nov. 18, 2009) -- The leaves are changing color
at Arlington National Cemetery – a bright backdrop for
something as sobering as a funeral. An Army chaplain in his
dress blues presents a folded flag to the fallen's next of
kin, a man who looks to be in his 40s.|
This is not a
father mourning the loss of his son, though. Rather, it's a
son finally receiving closure after his father went missing
in the South Pacific decades ago. Funeral services like
this, identical in form and location to the ones performed
for the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan, bring to light the
ongoing search the Department of Defense has undertaken to
make sure every servicemember who goes abroad comes home.
After more than six decades, the military laid to rest members of a World
War ll B-25 Army aircrew during an interment ceremony in Arlington National
Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 17, 2009. The crew was lost on Dec. 5,
1942, near Papua, New Guinea. by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Selby
“We're not looking for a name on a piece of paper, we're
looking for our fathers, uncles, and brothers,” said Lt.
Col. Eric Wolf, chief of the Past Conflict Repatriations
Branch of the Army's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs
Wolf's office oversees the Army's effort to locate and
identify the remains of every missing Soldier. Forensic
evidence, genealogy and old-fashioned detective work are all
a part of the process, which sometimes begins in the
unlikeliest of circumstances.
Wolf described one story which began with a scuba
expedition. The divers found the wreckage of a B-26 that had
gone down in 1942 off the coast of Palau. After a string of
phone calls to different groups and agencies that dealt with
military wreckage, the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in
Action Accounting Command, or JPAC, became involved.
The JPAC, based in Honolulu, Hawaii, conducted full
archaeological dig, 70 feet under water, gathering human
remains and other artifacts from the wreckage. Some research
gave them the names of the men who were aboard the plane.
“It's then we get to make the phone call, to this family
who's known their father and husband have been missing, to
tell them ‘We think we've found your father,'” Wolf said.
Wolf's office then works with the family to get any
information it might need to positively identify remains,
whether it's something forensic like a blood sample or
dental records or photographs and anecdotal evidence such as
In the case of the Palau wreckage, Wolf found the family,
then living in Texas, and got to brief them on how their
father was found and what the Army would be able to do for
them as the family of a deceased servicemember.
Sometimes a search is quick and remains can be easily
identified because of artifacts like identification tags or
dental remains that are easy to research and compare, but
some cases have been in the works for more than ten years.
Wolf's office stays in contact with the families it works
with as it investigates, sharing information to put the
pieces together, even if it takes waiting for new technology
like mitochondrial DNA testing to develop before conclusive
results can be found. Once those results are found, he said,
the length of the wait seems trivial at best.
“It's the most rewarding and fulfilling mission I've had in
my 26 years in the Army,” he said. “It's heartwarming to
know, as a Soldier myself, that no matter where I am in the
world, or what I'm doing, I have the confidence and
knowledge that, should I perish or go missing, the military
and our government will never stop looking for me. Every
Soldier, sailor, airman and Marine has a long trail of
family and the Nation behind them.”
Once they remains are identified and returned to the family,
they can be buried with the honors given to any current
servicemember – in today's case, a caisson and honor guard
from the Army's Old Guard and music by the Army Band helped
bring to an end the mystery surrounding the disappearance of
the crew of “The Happy Legend,” a B-25 that went missing
Dec. 5, 1942, near Papua, New Guinea.
For Wolf, it means seven less people on the ever-shrinking
list of Soldiers unaccounted for, and a return to the
continuing pursuit of Soldiers still missing.
“It may sound clich�, I know it does, but they are never
forgotten – we will never forget,” he said. “We're going to
keep searching until we bring every one of our brothers home
from the battlefield.”
By Ian Graham|
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
Special to American Forces Press Service
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