Many people we encounter here at The National WWII Museum are shocked to learn that almost 73,000 American military personnel are still unaccounted for from World War II. The sole purpose of the work we do for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is to reduce that number as much as possible.
Since 2017, the Museum has hosted a team of two DPAA researchers as members of the new Institute for the Study of War and Democracy—Historian Jason Dawsey, PhD, and Certified Genealogist Clarise Soper. Our relationship with the DPAA is one more way the Museum honors those who served in World War II.
So far in 2018, DPAA has identified and repatriated approximately 70 individuals. With the return of their lost ones, the families have some sense of closure. For those still awaiting news, the DPAA hold formal Family Member Updates. Attendance has grown sharply at these Updates—in 1997, 187 families showed up compared to 1,176 in late 2017.
This spring, we attended Updates in Jacksonville, Florida, and El Paso, Texas. More are scheduled this year in Rapid City, South Dakota; Louisville, Kentucky; and San Diego, California.
These are remarkable events. The DPAA makes every effort to ensure that family members have the best information from and access to Agency representatives. After relaying the DPAA’s mission and principles, Agency analysts meet directly with family members to discuss the cases of their missing loved ones. We both had the opportunity to observe these one-on-one sessions. In one case, the family was told that the area where the soldier was last seen is currently not accessible to DPAA. The Agency continues, however, to negotiate with the foreign government to get permission to search for remains. In another case, the analyst relayed great news—DPAA had recommended disinterment of remains for positive identification. DNA testing was also offered at the update at no expense to the families.
Subsequently, Agency officials provide detailed information about ongoing operations related to specific conflicts: World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
DPAA has already undertaken an investigation of a possible WWII grave site of an American pilot in Saiki City, Japan. This follows extensive contacts in 2017 with Japanese officials about sharing information and results. Similar efforts are underway in China, where DPAA conducted an investigation concerning missing American personnel from World War II. In Europe, the Agency plans a major search operation in Romania for the remains of US airmen shot down in the Ploesti raid of August 1943. These are only a few examples of recovery efforts envisioned for the next year.
Perhaps the most powerful moment in the Family Member Updates was the Remembrance Ceremony. Families were invited to share their stories about loved ones, stories of where these servicemembers fought and were last seen, and the enduring impact on the lives of those left behind. These individuals, as their recollections showed, had experienced a double loss: the death of a loved one and the absence of a final resting place to visit.
One of the essential aspects of the Museum’s mission is to make certain that these individuals and their service are remembered. And, as part of the Museum’s partnership with DPAA, we are committed to assisting the Agency in locating, identifying, and bringing home these servicemembers.
For those interested, DPAA will hold Family Member Updates on June 21-24 and August 9-10, both in Washington, DC. The final Family Member Update for 2018 will take place in Philadelphia on September 8.