By Don Vaughan
Recovering, identifying, and returning home American servicemembers
lost in action around the world is a difficult mission. But the rate of
identifications, as well as the number of previously missing persons
accounted for, has increased in recent years as a result of new Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) policies and improved technology.
date in FY 2017, DPAA, formerly the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command,
has made 114 identifications and accounted for 93, reports Maj. Jessie
Romero, public affairs officer, DPAA, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam,
Hawaii. In FY 2016, DPAA identified 164 U.S. servicemembers and
civilians and accounted for 160.
“The increase is due to a variety
of new programs implemented by the agency, coupled with scientific
advances,” Romero confirms. “Specifically, the program for disinterring
and identifying service[members] previously considered unidentifiable -
buried as unknowns in national cemeteries - has been the key factor in
the increase. Scientific advances in the DPAA Laboratory and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory have made it possible to identify remains that could not be identified five years ago.”
Other contributing factors include:
- development and implementation of an overarching strategy, a five-year campaign plan, and annual operations plans;
- a dedicated medical examiner assigned to DPAA;
of a strategic partnering effort to more efficiently and effectively
research, conduct analysis, and recover the missing; and
- improved relationships and information sharing with host-nation personnel.
is the recovery and identification of American personnel killed during
the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. According to Romero, an estimated
1,553 servicemembers have yet to be accounted for and their remains
might still be among the unknowns interred in the National Memorial
Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu or entombed aboard USS Arizona.
From July to November 2015, DPAA disinterred 388 sets of remains from
the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, killed while serving on USS Oklahoma. To date, Romero notes, 70 of those sailors and Marines have been identified and accounted for.
case is a significant project within the DPAA Laboratory, with
dedicated personnel and a project leader,” Romero says. “However, it is
one of many laboratory projects. The DPAA Laboratory does no prioritize
by conflict, service, or any other extraneous factors. We need to
identify all remains that enter the laboratory.”
recovering remains of the missing is still the greatest challenge facing
DPAA, Romero says. “The failures to find the recent Malaysian Airlines
aircraft or even Amelia Earhart are poignant reminders of how difficult
it can be to find someone who has disappeared,” he says. “Laboratory
challenges include the need to test small fragments of bone, poor
survival of DNA after many decades in the field, and missing antemortem
information, such as lack of DNA family reference samples.”
to the difficulty is the fact that many of the missing were lost behind
enemy lines and what became enemy territory during the Cold War.
“Significant time lapsed before it was possible to search these area,”
Romero explains. “Some service personnel were lost at high altitudes, in
sparsely populated areas, or over water.”Currently, 82,524 U.S.
personnel/Americans still are unaccounted for from World War II to
operations in Iraq, Romero reports. An estimated 34,000 are believed